At a recent Salt Lake County Commission meeting, two members of a local religious group opened the session with a chant designed to raise the vibratory rate in the commission chambers and help those present focus their energy upon the body's spiritual center in the middle of the forehead.
That ceremony was an example of a Solomonic compromise worked out by the commission to preserve it's tradition of opening prayer without offending the American Civil Liberties Union, which complained that the opening prayer was a violation of the constitutional separation of church and state.Although the commission still opens its twice-weekly meetings with prayer, things have been slightly different since last March when commissioners adopted a new policy governing the practice. Nowadays, the traditional Christian prayers that used to open every commission meeting share that duty with the prayers of other beliefs, with Oriental religious chants and with philosophical readings.
In an effort to more fully recognize local religious diversity, the commission has invited all community religious groups to take a turn at opening commission meetings with prayer or with an equivalent rite observed in their particular belief.
Most agree the experience has been interesting and educational.
During the recent meeting, prayer leaders instructed commissioners and those in the audience to take deep breaths to dispel negativity, and then chant in unison the single syllable "hu," holding the vocalization for about 10 seconds. The chant was repeated three times.
Those who felt uncomfortable participating in the chanting were encouraged to concentrate their thoughts upon whatever they hold sacred or upon the whatever tasks they had to do that day.
Commissioners used to invite county employees to offer commission meeting invocations, but the practice drew criticism from the ACLU because most of the prayers invoked the name of Jesus Christ. Local Christian denominations also objected because they felt members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were invited to offer most of the invocations.
The commission rejected the ALCU's call for non-denominational prayers as well as a recommendation from the county attorney's office that meetings start with a moment of silence or with the Pledge of Allegiance.
Instead commissioners decided prayer would remain a part of the program, but all religious beliefs would be given the chance to participate.
A letter was sent to the approximately 70 religious faiths listed in the Salt Lake phone book, inviting each to schedule a meeting date to offer an invocation.
A number responded, and representatives of the Jewish, Unitarian, Nazarene, Summum, Ecankar, LDS and various Protestant faiths have offered invocations at subsequent commission meetings.
"It's a very positive thing. It's what I was hoping the commission would do," said Dr. Wesley C. Parish-Pixler, minister of the Hilltop United Methodist Church in Sandy, who wrote the commission urging them to include more non-LDS prayers.
"The perception is that the Mormons run everything, including the county commission. It's nice that they have made an effort to include some of the rest of us."