VANCOUVER — After postponing a decision at last week’s Clark County Board of Councilors meeting, councilors voted to approve a new invocation policy on Tuesday.
The vote had originally been scheduled for Aug. 15, but was moved to Aug. 22 after councilors Eileen Quiring and Jeanne Stewart raised concerns that the public had not been given appropriate notification of the hearing.
Quiring said that the council had received complaints regarding the existing invocation policy, which has been in place since 2013, including a threat from a community member to have the Freedom From Religion Foundation sue the county over the invocation policy.
The county council needed “a more inclusive policy,” Quiring said, and the new invocation policy “allows for those of no religious faith to be able to offer words prior to the meeting.” With collaboration from other councilors, Quiring said that the new invocation resolution “is legally defensible in all aspects.”
Quiring also addressed concerns that the invocation resolution coerces people to pray. She cited court decisions that stated legislative prayer is offered for the council, not the members of the public in the audience.
“I think that we are doing the right thing by including others,” Quiring said, “but we are also honoring our Creator by allowing somebody to give an invocation.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, members of the public had the opportunity to comment on the proposed policy before it was discussed by the council.
Vancouver resident James Maynard, who also testified at last week’s hearing, said that the only way for the invocation to be legal was if it was fair to all faiths, including those who do not believe in a particular faith.
While Maynard felt the new resolution was an improvement over the original, he said that “all this expensive fuss and litigation is unnecessary.” Maynard said that many other legislative bodies in the state do not have an invocation, and that time and effort could be saved by removing the invocation from council proceedings.
Others believed it was appropriate to have an invocation before council meetings. Dr. Greg Romine of King’s Church in Vancouver, appealed to the personal faith of councillors. “Historically, we are a people that trust in God,” Romine said. Noting that some of the councilors have professed their faith publicly, Romine said that it was not appropriate to ask council members to leave their faith outside of proceedings.
John Drury of Vancouver similarly said that “It’s appropriate for those in places of responsibility to ask God’s favor.” Drury, a former Air Force pilot who served in Vietnam, said he often prayed for God’s grace in the service, and that he believed it appropriate for the council to do the same regarding governing Clark County.
“We have the freedom to believe in whichever way we want to believe,” Vancouver resident David Alt said.
Alt believed the invocation should be retained in council policy because “we have seen the dominance of the lack of God in the hatred and the things that are going on in this country because we do not have a higher being in our life.”
Councilor John Blom said that the debate concerning the invocation was one of “do we have prayer on our agenda, on our meeting layout, on a weekly basis or not?”
Blom said he supported the new resolution, but would have been more comfortable with having a moment of silence before each meeting instead.
Councilor Julie Olson said that council meetings are public, and the council needed “to make sure we’re open to all.” She suggested several clarifying changes to the resolution. This included clarifying that a person as well as a cleric could give the invocation.
Olson’s proposed changes were unanimously approved by the council.
The new invocation resolution was then unanimously approved by the county council.
The text of the 2013 resolution can be found on the county website at https://www.clark.wa.gov/sites/default/files/dept/files/the-grid/2013_0304.pdf. The full text of the new resolution as disussed at the council meeting prior to Olson’s ammendments can also be found online at https://www.clark.wa.gov/sites/default/files/dept/files/the-grid/d082217_BOCC_InvocationResolution.pdf.