U.S. Supreme Court decision on prayers in meetings met with indifference on Peninsula

By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News

A U.S. Supreme Court decision that opened the doors to pre-meeting prayers in public meetings has created little interest in city and county governments in Clallam and Jefferson counties.

When government leaders in the North Olympic Peninsula were asked if the decision would change the way their meetings are run, all of them said no one has expressed any interest in adding prayers.

On May 5, the court ruled 5 to 4 that Christian prayers said before council meetings in a New York state town did not violate the constitutional prohibition against government establishment of religion.

In Town of Greece v. Galloway, the justices ruled that the township of Greece, New York, may permit volunteer chaplains to offer prayers to open city meetings.

“The town of Greece does not violate the First Amend­ment by opening its meetings with prayer that comports with our tradition and does not coerce participation by nonadherents,” Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority decision.

The practice is consistent with traditions in U.S. congressional and state legislatures, Kennedy wrote.

Members of minority faiths may offer their own prayers, and audience members may leave and return after the prayer if they do not wish to take part, the decision said.

The decision opens the door for volunteer chaplains to offer prayers in city and county meetings, but more than a week after the decision, no discussions of such prayers have begun on the Peninsula.

Clallam County

Clallam County Commissioner Mike Doherty said there has been no discussion of any kind regarding the possibility of prayer, nor has the county commission been contacted with requests to institute such prayers.

Doherty said he was not yet familiar with the Supreme Court decision and would review it for further consideration in the future.

No one at the city of Port Angeles has discussed the possibility of implementing prayers at city meetings, and even if the discussion was brought up, the city would first have to talk to the city’s attorney to examine the constitutional decision, Mayor Dan Di Guilio said.

“In the six years I’ve been here, there has been no interest in offering prayers,” Di Guilio said.

Sequim Mayor Candace Pratt concurred with Di Guilio that there simply has been no interest shown.

If there was a request for prayer, it would have to be approved by the council first, Pratt said.

Similarly in Forks, there have been no requests for the City Council to institute a pre-meeting prayer, said Mayor Bryon Monohon.

“I don’t see us going down that direction,” Monohon said.

If people ask about it, the council will consider the issue, he said.

Jefferson County

There has been no discussion of adding prayers at meetings in Jefferson County, either.

“We all pretty much believe in the separation of church and state, and the free exercise of religion,” said Jefferson County Commissioner David Sullivan.

The commissioners wouldn’t impose religious ceremonies on county residents, Sullivan said.

If someone were to ask the commission to allow a volunteer chaplain to institute a prayer before meetings, the commission would consider the issue, he said.

Similarly in Port Townsend, there has been no discussion of starting meetings with prayers, said Mayor David King.

“It is my preference to stay non-sectarian,” King said.

If a request came from the public, the City Council would have to discuss the issue and make a decision as a group, he said.

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Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at arwyn.rice@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: May 18. 2014 7:12PM
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