The state director of the American Civil Liberties Union says city and county efforts to accommodate a broad spectrum of religious interests during invocations is bringing alternative religions out of the woodwork and making "a mockery" of local government.
The Salt Lake City Council this year began inviting representatives from various religions to give the invocation at the beginning of each council session.Last week, a member of the Unification Church, a group sometimes known as the Moonies, gave the invocation. This week, a leader of a religious group called Summum, which worships at the foot of pyramids, will give the invocation.
"Non-mainstream organizations have grabbed the opportunity for public forum," said Robyn Blumner, executive ACLU director in Utah.
"The question is whether or not the policy is doing what they hoped, which is the continued influence of religion in government, or whether it is having the opposite effect of making a mockery of the institution," she said.
"They're doing the job the Constitution requires, which is opening the doors to all religious groups and organizations," she added,"but I can't wait for the Satanists to bring their sheep; that's got to be the next step."
But Council Chairman Tom Godfrey said the council was prepared to encounter even offensive invocations when they agreed to offer prayers at the beginning of council sessions. That agreement was reached when council members L. Allan Hardman and Wayne Horrocks were elected to the body last year.
"You could even have Satan worshippers," Godfrey said, adding that so far, the council hasn't objected to any group that has done an invocations, or is scheduled to do so.
The city attorney's office issued an opinion in September 1987 saying that opening council sessions with prayers was constitutional, but suggested the council "extend such invitations to provide such prayers to the community, including ministers or officials of various religions."
However, Police Chaplain Max Yospe, who is responsible for scheduling invocations, said only "acceptable religious denominations" would be permitted to pray at council sessions.
"As long as I'm in control, I will research the individuals and their religious background, and it will have to be in the framework of an acceptable - in this community - legitimate group," he said.
Blumner said the council could "forestall the possibiltiy of the Satanists" appearing at council sessions "by retreating to their earlier position and eliminating invocations. Otherwise, they don't have much choice, constitutionally."