City to Vote on New Invocation Policy Wednesday, Is County Next?

By: Tim Ciesco Email
By: Tim Ciesco Email

The City of Grand Junction says it's ready to move forward with new plans of opening meetings with an invocation, leaving many to ask if the county is next.

During a Monday night workshop, the City Council read a draft version of the resolution the city attorney had written. After making some suggestions on fine tuning, the decision was made to put the final resolution on Wednesday night's agenda.

After weeks of controversy stemming from a short prayer said at the beginning of meetings, members of the City Council say something needs to be done.

"We all recognize that we need to do something different than what we're doing," said Teresa Coons, Mayor Pro Temp of Grand Junction.

What that something different is was the question for city officials Monday night as they reviewed a draft resolution on the matter.

One proposed change is to make it clear in meeting agendas and during meetings that invocation is for the benefit of the city and is not intended as a religious service.

The resolution would also create a new system where any individual or spiritual leader who wants to make an invocation can put their name on a list, then city staff will choose at random on a quarterly basis who gets to say the invocation at the meeting.

"I'm feeling very good about it at this point," said Coons.

According to the resolution, spiritual leaders would be able to make any invocation they see fit, but would not be able to exploit or "aggressively advocate a specific religious creed."

"It's important to the community, so I think it's worth our time at least to this point," said Coons.

Western Colorado Atheists and Free Thinkers, who have pushed for the changes, say if they had it their way, the invocation would be replaced by a moment of silence or be dropped completely. Members admit, however, they're glad to see the city making an effort.

"We're really glad the city has taken our comments to heart and they've decided to examine their procedure for the invocation and re-evaluate it," said Anne Landman, a member of Western Colorado Atheists.

With changes in the works at the city, many wonder whether that will be the case in the county.

An argument over the constitutionality of the commission's invocation, led to a Monday morning meeting being adjourned.

"We hope there is no reason to take it to the county, because they entire thing is playing out before the county," said Landman. "They can clearly see where they're violating the law and where they could easily come into compliance with it."

The County Commissioners currently take turns giving the invocation themselves. Commissioner Janet Rowland says that won't likely change any time soon.

"I think a sixty second prayer before a meeting people don't even have to attend if they don't want to is not establishing a religion," said Rowland. "And to tell me how I can and can't pray is prohibiting my free exercise thereof."

Rowland says county officials are considering requests to put an official invocation policy in place, but that it would likely be the one they currently observe.

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