Congress and legislative bodies across central Ohio and the nation open public meetings with a prayer or invocation.

The U.S. Supreme Court even upheld the practice in 2014.

A Canal Winchester City Councilman's request to begin meetings with an invocation delivered by local religious leaders has led to an ongoing debate over religion's place in government.

Council Vice President Mike Walker's proposal will receive further discussion after he attempted to amend a resolution from council's rules committee during a meeting June 18.

"We're one of the few who don't do this," Walker said.

The rules committee voted 3-0 on June 4 to open council meetings with a moment of reflective silence limited to 10 seconds. Council would then decide every two years whether to continue the practice.

Walker's motion to change the "moment of reflective silence" to "invocation" was met with a 3-3 vote, with Walker, council President Bruce Jarvis and Bob Clark voting in favor and the three members of the rules committee -- Patrick Lynch, Mike Coolman and Jill Amos -- voting against.

Councilman Will Bennett did not answer when his name was called for a vote, citing the lack of discussion. The resolution is expected to receive more discussion at the meeting Monday, July 2.

"The rules committee was expected to look at how an invocation could be incorporated, not the question of whether to do it or something else," Jarvis said. "We're just trying to bring it back on track."

The three members of the rules committee all voiced concerns June 4 about the separation of government and religion.

"I worship in my own way," Coolman said. "However, I think this is a government-elected position for us. I don't think it's something we should get into at this stage. I think it may open up issues that we may not want to talk about or become a complication for us in the future."

While Amos noted her family is "strong in faith," she was concerned about forcing beliefs on others "by bringing it into the room." She provided examples of nonsectarian prayers that did not speak of a specific god.

Lynch wanted to ensure that a newly elected council (every two years) could decide if the moment of silent reflection should remain on the agenda. He also questioned the logistics of coordinating local pastors and accommodating every religious sect.

"I don't wear my religion on my sleeve," he said. "I keep it in my heart. To me, it's a private thing. I'm not altogether in favor of the prayer or invocation. I don't think it's really necessary."

Walker laid out his request during council's April 30 committee-of-the-whole meeting, saying a prayer or invocation would "give everyone a chance to reflect and ask God for wisdom and guidance." He also believes the time set aside for an invocation would provide a "calming effect" ahead of meetings, which sometimes can become contentious.

In a memo to Walker, city Law Director Gene Hollins explained that the Supreme Court and federal courts allow "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."

A sharply divided Supreme Court decided in 2014 that the practice in Greece, New York, of opening its government meeting with prayer did not violate the constitutional separation of church and state.

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