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EDITORIAL: Investigation into invocations warranted

By Staff | Nov 10, 2010

During last week’s City Council meeting, councilman Jim Jennings delivered a heartfelt invocation to start the session, thanking God for sparing Sanibel during the current hurricane season.

His remarks drew the attention of two members seated at MacKenzie Hall, residents Herb Rubin and Barbara Joy Cooley, both of whom requested that the city look into the appropriateness of allowing religious-themed remarks as part of the government meeting process.

The issue of whether some faith-based comments should be allowed during the commencement of government gatherings has long been debated in this country, and an investigation to determine what remarks are appropriate — and which are not — is not only valid, it is warranted simply for the fact that our leaders operate by the people and for the people.

When our founding fathers were in the process of establishing the U.S. Constitution, they were concerned about the potential power of religious institutions to generate conflict if they were linked in any manner with the government. In fact, the authors of our Bill of Rights required in the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment that “there shall be no establishment of religion by the federal government.”

Of course, any time you bring religion and government together, controversy is sure to follow.

Sanibel’s bringing the subject to light certainly is not unique in this day and age, nor is it an issue unique to government at any level — municipal, state or federal. The appropriateness of faith-based remarks during public meetings has been the topic of discussion and debate across the country, with varying actions following those investigations.

This past summer in Jacksonville, for example, the City Council decided to invite religious leaders — representing a wide variety of faiths — to conduct the invocation to start their meetings.

Last October in Lodi, Calif., the City Council opted to allow an opening prayer and invocation prior to the beginning of their government sessions.

No matter what the city’s investigation reveals, we would support Sanibel extending an invitation to members of all religious faiths represented on the island to deliver the invocation before the opening gavel starting City Council meetings. In this manner, the city could establish a rotating schedule of speakers and avoid any “separation of church and state” conflict.

Our leaders represent not just some of the people, but all of the people. Religious and secular citizens alike.

— Reporter editorial