Bahai News -- Daily Herald - Elgin searches for balance with public prayer
Elgin searches for balance with public prayer
By Kara Spak Daily Herald Staff Writer
Posted on January 02, 2003
At the final Elgin City Council meeting of 2002, council members and those in attendance stood, bowed their heads and silently listened to
Judson College President Jerry Cain pray.
Without directly invoking the Christian heritage of his school, Cain prayed for the process of
voluntary government, for shelter for Elgin's homeless and in thanksgiving for the "good life" of state Rep. Doug Hoeft, who died earlier that
Cain's participation at the meeting is the latest incarnation of a 2-year-old saga in Elgin over the invocation that traditionally
begins, with the Pledge of Allegiance, all of the city's council meetings.
At issue in Elgin are not only first amendment separation of
church and state issues but also logistics. The council suspended the prayer twice in the past two years simply because the city staff could
not regularly schedule a local religious leader to deliver the prayer.
Though council meetings typically start at 7 p.m., an executive
session directly before the meeting occasionally delays the invocation.
"It's gotten difficult and in fact sometimes embarrassing to find
people to do this," said Elgin Mayor Ed Schock. "Sometimes because of executive session we felt bad for leaving people sitting out
After the second suspension of the invocation, council member John Walters contacted Judson College, an evangelical Christian school
on the city's northwest side, to see if they were interested in leading the prayer.
The school is now expected to send students and other
representatives to the meetings, though Schock said the Judson participants were asked to represent all religions in their invocations. The
city was also contacted by members of the local Jewish and Bahai communities, who will be added to the schedule, Walters said.
that the invocation is a traditional part of meetings in Elgin, one of the region's oldest towns.
"It's important for us to do it for the
same reason it's important for Congress and the Illinois state legislature to do it," Walters said. "Anytime we can evoke a higher one's
presence helps the whole situation work out that much better."
Elgin is not anomalous in delivering a prayer before council meetings, said
Rob Boston, assistant director of communications for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, but he added that Judson's
participation was unusual.
Boston said his group advocates leaving prayer out of municipal meetings, but a 1983 United States Supreme Court
case ruled it was constitutional for the Nebraska legislature to pray at its meetings. Other municipal communities across the country
extrapolated the Nebraska case to extend the protection to their own prayers.
Americans United, Boston said, is now fighting for
inclusiveness in who delivers the meeting prayer, if there is one. The watchdog group, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a
lawsuit in federal court earlier this month against the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors in Virginia after they refused to add a Wiccan
to a list of volunteer clergy who give the invocation at county board meetings.
Wicca is a pagan, nature-centered, pantheistic religion with
primarily female worshippers. The word Wicca is often used synonymously with positive witchcraft.
"You cannot limit this to Judeo- Christian
religions," Boston said. "Councils really need to understand they can't play favorites. This is something towns need to be aware of so they
start opening the door to a number of types of religious expressions."
Boston, who said he learned of Elgin's invitation to Judson College
through an Associated Press article, said this gesture "opens up some problems" if the city was only allowing Christians to deliver the
invocation. Walters and Schock both emphasized, however, that this was not the council's intent.
Not everyone on the Elgin council agrees
with Walters that a prayer should be a regular part of government meetings. Schock said that the council is divided on the issue of an
invocation, but no one feels strongly enough to fight to end the prayer.
"I question it myself," Schock said. "There is separation of church
and state, and we were elected to represent the people in a non-sectarian body."
He added that Elgin is a city with a diverse religious
population, which includes active Jewish, Muslim, Bahai and Buddhist communities.
With the prayer, some members of these smaller local faith
communities voice concerns to the city that they were not represented. Without the prayer, the city received complaints that it should continue
"We're trying to avoid controversy, but every time we do something we create it," Schock said.
Prayer: City trying to avoid
©Copyright 2003, Daily Herald (IL, USA)
Following is the URL to the original story. The site may have removed or archived this story. URL:
Return to: UGA Baha'i Association's Home Page
Baha'i News Archives' Index
This page was designed by Sohayl Moshtael suggestions, and news submissions are welcome, and
The content and opinions expressed on this Web page do not necessarily reflect the views of nor are they endorsed by the
University of Georgia or the University System of Georgia.
Page last updated/revised 030105