Washougal Council votes to allow invocations

Prayers, poems, quotes or inspirational phrases could occur

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After lengthy discussions and a few amendments, the Washougal City Council approved a resolution that provides for invocations just prior to council meetings.

The 4 to 3 vote last night, included “nay” votes from Brent Boger, Paul Greenlee and Joyce Lindsay.

That was followed by a 5 to 2 vote, for the invocations — which could include prayers, poems, quotes or inspirational phrases — to occur before the call to order.

Connie Jo Freeman and Dave Shoemaker dissented, in favor of allowing the invocations to occur after the call to order.

“We should welcome God formally into our meetings,” Freeman said.

“I need help to know how to vote on behalf of 14,000 citizens,” she said later.

Councilwoman Michelle Wagner noticed some council members were visibly disturbed about the topic of invocations.

“The purpose is to bring us together and gain inspiration,” she said.

Wagner recommended an invocation occur before the call to order, in case any council members want to stay outside the council chambers during that time.

“It would not be as disruptive,” she said.

Lindsay said her spiritual relationship is between her and God.

“It is private and personal, and I intend to keep it that way,” she said.

Lindsay said council members are there to handle the business of the city.

“My religious activities will take place somewhere else,” she said.

Prior to the votes, Greenlee said he was deeply conflicted about the invocations issue.

“I don’t want to make someone else participate, even by listening,” he said. “It’s not appropriate to lead prayer in this hall of government.”

Shoemaker said some people have used the First Amendment as a tool to rid government of religion and prayer.

“It’s about freedom of religion, not freedom from religion,” he said. “Bear up, and be tolerant of this.

“Many believe God should not be removed from these chambers,” Shoemaker added.

The issue of prayer at City Council meetings was previously brought up by Freeman in March 2013. Since then, it has been discussed this year at the May 27 council workshop and meeting, as well as the Sept. 8 workshop.

A list of the new procedures states that no city employee, elected city official or anyone else in attendance will be required to participate in or stand during an invocation.

Any person may volunteer to provide an invocation, which should not exceed 60 seconds. Interested individuals may contact City Clerk Jennifer Forsberg at 835-8501, to be placed on the calendar.