Island County Commission Chairwoman Kelly Emerson is a strong believer in prayer. So much so, she asked the commission to consider praying before each meeting.
“This would ensure that everyone has an opportunity to reflect on matters other than their own personal interests,” she told her fellow commissioners at a public meeting on Wednesday. “It's done throughout different levels of government.”
The issue has filled the air in recent weeks all across Island County. Tom Smith, a member of Whidbey Island Freethinkers has taken to his public radio show to say God should be kept quiet at council meetings.
“You can take a moment to ground yourself and say a prayer 10 seconds before you walk in the room,” he said from the Coupeville studio Wednesday. “All these things could be done in the parking lot or the hall. You could say your prayer on the roof for that matter. It has no place inside council chambers.”
Up the road in Oak Harbor, the city is waging a different battle over the separation of church and state. Oak Harbor is being sued by an atheist organization in the Midwest for allowing invocations at council meetings. They've been praying at the city council for decades and a new 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision appears to have answered the prayers of the faithful. That ruling upholds the right for people to pray to any deity they desire in a government setting.
Pastor Tim Geist of Oak Harbor’s Bible Baptist Church says it's all about tolerance.
“If a Muslim came in and started praying to Allah, I would not agree with him theologically, but I would not be so offended that I would never come to another meeting again because I was so offended.”
Ironically, tolerance of other beliefs is exactly what killed prayer at the Island County Commission, Wednesday. Commissioner Jill Johnson reversed her initial support for public prayer after considering what an invocation to Christ might mean to a non-Christian.
“I'm not willing to compromise who I pray to, and I'm not willing to ask someone else to compromise who they pray to,” she told her colleagues.
Chairwoman Emerson, finding herself in the minority, agreed to drop the matter. She did say she might revisit the issue in the future.