Prayer is proposed at Washougal City Council meetings

Additional discussions could occur Monday

An idea to have prayer at Washougal City Council meetings is drawing strong opinions.

Allowing prayer has been supported by Councilwoman Connie Jo Freeman.

“Invite clergy from established religions,” she has said.

During public comment at the council’s March 25 workshop, Marilyn Tyrrell identified herself as a Unitarian Universalist and said she believes in the separation of church and state.

Tyrrell said it would be inappropriate to waste the time of City Attorney Don English on the prayer issue.

English said prayer at public meetings is not prohibited.

“It is always contentious,” he said.

If the council approves a formal written policy to allow prayer, it would have to provide for participation by non-religious groups.

English recalled when opening prayers were said at council meetings from 1992 to 1994.

Mayor Sean Guard said the opportunity to pray was rotated among councilors.

“Some would opt out,” he said.

Guard has said prayer is not currently in the council meeting rules.

During the March 25 meeting, John Wagoner — a self-described atheist — said he is opposed to prayer during council meetings.

“This is the public’s chamber,” he said.

“Preach to me, and I’m inclined to give my rebuttal,” Wagoner added.

Joe Levesque, of Camas, recalled when he sang “God Bless America,” in high school.

He described himself as a “self-appointed evangelist” and said city leaders should ask God for wisdom, knowledge and understanding.

“Thirty-plus churches are praying for you,” Levesque said later.

After Freeman left because she was not feeling well, council members voted 6 to 0, to postpone discussions about prayer at council meetings until Freeman is present.

“The history of prayer in public meetings is long and distinguished, stretching back to before our founding and including every level of government,” Councilman Dave Shoemaker said. “In this litigious society, we could get sued over this.

“I’ll be interested in the discussion and how we resolve that apparent conflict,” he added.

The Washougal City Council is scheduled to meet with the Camas City Council Monday, from 4:30 to 6 p.m., in the council chambers at Washougal City Hall, 1701 “C” St. Washougal councilors could discuss the prayer issue at 6 p.m., or during the regular meeting at 7 p.m.

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