OH Council prayer may still invoke Jesus Christ

Pastor Michael Hurley of the Life Church gives an invocation at the start of a recent Oak Harbor City Council meeting.   - Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times
Pastor Michael Hurley of the Life Church gives an invocation at the start of a recent Oak Harbor City Council meeting.
— image credit: Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times

Oak Harbor City Council will likely review a revised policy on invocations before public meetings.

Interim City Attorney Grant Weed said he is planning to present the proposed policy during a council meeting in June.

Weed rewrote a proposed policy on invocations the start of council meetings to take into account the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in the case Rubin v. City of Lancaster.

The new policy removes prohibitions against what may be said during the invocation.

A group of leaders from the Oak Harbor religious community and others were critical of a proposed policy presented to the council during its May 7 meeting.

The prayer proponents said they were particularly upset that the policy stated that those giving the invocation shouldn’t mention the name of a deity.

Tim Geist, a pastor for Bible Baptist Church, was among those who pointed out that the Ninth Circuit just ruled on the very issue and concluded it is constitutional for the City of Lancaster to open a council meeting with a prayer that mentions Jesus Christ.

City council members tabled the earlier proposal. Several council members said they were upset that Mayor Scott Dudley put on proposal on the agenda without giving them advance notice.

During a workshop Wednesday, Weed presented the revised policy proposal. He said the previous proposal was in fact based on a Supreme Court decision from the 1980s and didn’t take into account the Lancaster decision, which was issued in March.

Weed said different appeals courts around the nation have disagreed on the issue, but the Ninth Circuit is the court for Washington and many other Western states.

As a result of the dueling opinions, the United States Supreme Court agreed this session to weigh in on a similar case. Weed said he doesn’t expect that decision for at least a year.

Weed gave the council a couple of options for how to proceed. Options included waiting for the Supreme Court ruling.

Council members, however, seemed to approve of the newer proposed policy, which Weed said he based on the Lancaster ruling.

The new proposal states that, “the opportunity to offer an invocation is voluntary and the contents of the invocation may be dictated by the beliefs of the individual or organization offering the invocation.”

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