Canal Winchester soon could begin its City Council meetings with an invocation or prayer, a practice that is not uncommon across the nation and one that has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The request comes from City Council Vice President Mike Walker, who wants to invite area clergy and others to deliver invocations prior to meetings. He explained his proposal during council's April 30 committee-of-the-whole meeting.
"During prayer, it gives everyone a chance to reflect and ask God for wisdom and guidance," Walker said. "As you make decisions and vote on ordinances, things that are going to affect the community for generations to come, I think it's appropriate to ask for that guidance or wisdom."
Many legislative bodies, including Congress and most, if not all, state legislatures, begin with a prayer.
Walker also believes the time set aside for an invocation would provide a "calming" effect ahead of meetings, which sometimes can deal with contentious issues.
There was no discussion about Walker's proposal at the meeting.
It will advance to the rules committee, which includes council members Patrick Lynch (chairman), Jill Amos (vice chairwoman) and Mike Coolman. Establishing an invocation as part of the regular agenda at meetings would require changing the official rules of council.
A recommendation from the committee would be voted on by the entire body, council President Bruce Jarvis said.
Jarvis said he believes council is supportive of Walker's proposal.
"To have that reflection would set the tone for the meeting," he said. "If you come to council with an issue that's burning and (are) emotional about it, I think this would remind everybody that we're kind of working together for the same thing."
In a memo to Walker, City Law Director Gene Hollins said the Supreme Court and federal courts "permit substantial leeway in permitting municipalities to begin meetings with an invocation."
"In summary, council members can begin legislative meetings with prayer, and it is not a problem if the prayer generally espouses the Christian faith," Hollins said in the memo. "Council can ask members to stand for prayer, refer specifically to God/Jesus, and do not have to make any special effort to provide opportunities for persons of other faiths to offer invocations."
Hollins noted legislative prayers are treated as "an exception ... because they are part of the "nation's historical traditions" and serve to assist in "solemnizing meetings" rather than further particular religious beliefs.
Hollins cautioned that the invocation cannot be used "as an opportunity to proselytize or advance any one or to disparage any other faith or belief."
One of the most frequent complaints to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, according to its website, is public concern about government officials opening government meetings with prayer and violating the constitutional separation of church and state.
A New York town's practice of opening its government meeting with a prayer came before a sharply divided Supreme Court, which ruled in 2014 that the practice did not violate the constitutional separation of church and state.
The swing vote in Town of Greece v. Galloway was Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who joined the court's four more conservative members in the 5-4 decision in favor of the town.
In his majority opinion, Kennedy cited the long-held American tradition of prayers to open government meetings.
"Ceremonial prayer is but a recognition that, since this nation was founded and until the present day, many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond that authority of government to alter or define," he wrote.