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To pray or not to pray

Commissioners weigh opening with prayer, or silence

PASCO — To open with a prayer or not.

That’s an issue now brewing in Franklin County Commission meetings.

Since being named chairman, Clint Didier has reopened the door for commissioners to offer a prayer or a moment of silence to open each meeting.

Last week, on Jan. 19, Chairman Didier opened the meeting with a prayer.

On Tuesday, Jan. 26, Commissioner Lowell “Brad” Peck had to opportunity to open the meeting with a prayer or moment of silence.

Peck chose “20 seconds” of silence.

“I don’t attend these meetings to engage in theological exchange anymore than I go to church to engage in political discourse,” Peck said. “I offer my prayers privately before our board meetings.”

After opening the meeting, commissioners later took up whether to allow opening meetings with a prayer.

"This is entirely about individual liberty," Peck said, in opposition to allowing an opening prayer. "I am not at all offended by Christian prayers in our board meetings, although I do think that they violate the liberty of other citizens whom we are sworn in to represent, if they have disparate views."

Peck noted that allowing prayer would mean any religious group — even satanic groups — would be allowed.

"I don't know how we can justify using the people's time and building to give overtly Christian prayers," he said, noting there are 12 major religions in the world. "If we're open to any and all have equal access, that represents liberty."

According to Peck, the "appropriate path" is to set aside a moment of silence, calling allowing prayer a "liberty trap."

Commissioner Rocky Mullen said he supports moving forward with a moment of silence.

"I won't jeopardize my religious beliefs to accommodate someone else," he said. "If it has to be open for all ... it's going to create a burden on the clerk to accommodate and make sure we don't leave someone out."

Mullen said while he agrees with a moment of silence, for now, he will continue to follow his faith and encourage others to use it to pray.

Didier, however, disagreed.

The chairman read from the state Constitution and cited the U.S. Supreme Court's allowance of prayers at the opening of government meetings.

"This debate is going on all over the country," he said. "We're asking that the creator help us make the right decisions for Franklin County."

Didier said nondenominational prayer openings should be allowed.

Peck moved that commissioners allow a 30-second moment of silence to open meetings, but not open with a vocal prayer.

His motion failed due to a lack of a second.

"The chair made a unilateral decision 2-3 weeks ago without seeking the board's concurrence," Peck said, referencing Didier's previous allowance of prayers at the opening of meetings.

Peck said he would not participate in meetings that open with a prayer.

On a second attempt at virtually the same motion, Peck's effort failed.

Peck then attempted a third motion to remove any reference to a moment of silence or a prayer, which also failed.

After his third strike, Peck then asked for an executive session to discuss the matter at a later time.

Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney Shawn P. Sant said the topic was allowed to be discussed in executive session under Revised Code of Washington 42.30.110 (1)(i).

Following an executive session, Peck moved again to forego opening meetings with prayer or a moment of silence. Instead, he called for pre-meeting prayers.

This time, Commissioner Mullen seconded the motion, and it passed 2-0, with Chairman Didier abstaining.

"This is a voluntary opportunity, certainly open to all county employees and county citizens," Pecks aid. "It is a manner of respecting and encouraging religious expression, but doing it in a way that doesn't bring risk upon the citizens.

Author Bio

Roger Harnack, Publisher

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Roger Harnack is the co-owner/publisher of Free Press Publishing. Having grown up Benton City, Roger is an award-winning journalist, photographer, editor and publisher. He's one of only two editorial/commentary writers from Washington state to ever receive the international Golden Quill. Roger is dedicated to the preservation of local media, and the voice it retains for Eastern Washington.


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