City’s best bet may be a policy of inclusion, not one of exclusion | Publishers column

By Keven Graves

As a young reporter covering the occasional Oak Harbor City Council, I never had an issue with the invocation that topped each meeting’s agenda.

I’ve also never had any issue whatsoever with reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. In fact, it took me back to grade school, and I always looked forward to it — still do.

But, I do see the flip side in the prayer issue that recently appeared before the council.

Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley placed the issue on a recent agenda. The council was asked to review its policy on having a prayer before each meeting begins.

That opening prayer is usually, if not always, a Christian one.

The matter was tabled, perhaps in part because it is a very controversial topic. Even though there wasn’t a lot of notice that the issue was going to be on the agenda, there were citizens prepared to speak on the matter.

The fact is, Oak Harbor is an increasingly diverse community, in large part because of the Navy presence. There are people of all faiths and backgrounds who have made the community their home, either temporarily or permanently.

Whether a resident is here one year or 100, our local government works on their behalf, regardless of religious or philosophical beliefs.

For me, prayer is a very personal matter. While I may not have any issue with praying to a Christian God before a council meeting, I understand there are others who follow another faith — or don’t believe in any god at all.

The prayer issue isn’t confined to the City of Oak Harbor. This week, the U.S. Supreme Court opted to hear a prayer case involving a city in Upstate New York.

The High Court will address the use of prayer to open town meetings in Greece, New York. The majority of the prayers are Christian-based.

The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals already ruled that the town should make a greater effort to invite people from other faiths to open the public meetings.

At some point, the Oak Harbor council will be forced to revisit the issue of  prayer before meetings. It will undoubtedly lead to heated debate, and there will probably be a decision made by the council.

Ultimately, it must come down to respect for all beliefs, whether we share them or not.

For the Oak Harbor council, a policy of inclusion rather than exclusion might be the best solution.


Keven R. Graves is executive editor and publisher for the Whidbey New-Times. His email is kgraves@whidbeynewsgroup.com

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