County Council's Gotta Have Faith
Concerned citizens challenge County Council's faith.
Religion is a curious and personal thing. So is the absence of religion. This is the conflict that confronted Erie County Council during Tuesday night's County Council meeting at the Tom Ridge Center.
Seven concerned citizens of Erie County spoke about Councilwoman Carol Loll's practice opening each Council meeting with a Christian invocation.
Loll began offering the prayer about four years ago after volunteering to do so, according to County Clerk Doug Smith. She continued the practice in spite of the objections planned on Tuesday.
"It appears that religion is on the table at your meetings," said Jim Wise of Erie, who identifies as a secular humanist.
Most of the speakers at Tuesday's meeting were civil and polite objecting primarily to Council's apparent endorsement of a single religious doctrine.
Public prayer at County Council meetings fostered the "treatment of Christians as second class citizens," Steve Sullivan said.
Following public comment Council Chairman Kyle Foust addressed the gallery of 15 people explaining Council's position on public invocations at Council meetings.
"We don't have a policy regarding prayer. This is part of our agenda because in the past, chairmen have chosen to invite Rabbis, they've invited protestant ministers, they've invited catholic priests to give some sort of invocation at various times. There's never been a time that we have discriminated against anybody wishing to give an invocation. I have not invited any religious person to provide a prayer. Mrs. Loll had asked, as it is her right to do so, to offer a prayer at the beginning of each meeting. It is not a Council sanctioned perspective. It is her perspective."
Council has no immediate plans to codify its position on public invocations, secular or religious, according to Foust.
It's historically held policy of inclusion may persist, even in the absence of direct council involvement.
In the meantime we all can hope, pray, or whatever upon economic development and the politics of business in Erie County.
Jim Wertz can be contacted at jWertz@ErieReader.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @Jim_Wertz.