Supreme Court OKs meeting prayer policy

Oak Harbor City Council’s prayer policy is OK with the United States Supreme Court.


Interim City Attorney Grant Weed said the High Court’s 5-4 decision this past week in a New York state city council prayer case appears to affirm the constitutionality of Oak Harbor’s revised policy.

Weed said he is planning to study the ruling to make sure.

“I’m pretty confident that what Oak Harbor has done is just fine,” he said.

In an opinion published this week, the Supreme Court ruled that city councils can begin their hearings with prayers, even if they’re offered almost entirely by Christians and may offend some listeners.

“As a practice that has long endured, legislative prayer has become part of our heritage and tradition, part of our expressive idiom, similar to the Pledge of Allegiance, inaugural prayer or recitation of ‘God save the United States and this honorable court,’ at the opening of this court’s sessions,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion.

An invocation at the start of Oak Harbor council meetings became a political issue last year after Weed proposed a formal policy stating that the prayers should be nondenominational, not invoke a particular faith and not to mention a deity.

Members of the city’s religious community protested and pointed out that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in the case Rubin v. City of Lancaster allowed a public prayer that invoked Jesus Christ.

Weed admitted that the proposed policy was dated and refined it based on the public comments.

The council ultimately approved a policy that rotates the invocation among pastors or others in the community, but doesn’t place any restrictions upon what can be said.

In February, an atheist gave the invocation at the start of the council meeting.

Robert Ray, president of the Humanist of North Puget Sound, delivered a speech that Councilman Jim Campbell described as “an inspirational chat” that didn’t touch on atheism.

Campbell has been the go-to guy for invocations when a pastor can’t make it to the council meeting.

The message from the Supreme Court, Campbell said, is that “you can pray the way you were taught.”


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