Prayers that invoke the name of Jesus Christ will continue to open some meetings of the Salt Lake County Commission, but county leaders said Monday they also will seek people to pray who have different beliefs.
Commissioners rejected a recommendation from the Utah Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union calling for non-denominational prayers. The primarily Christian prayers currently offered at meetings could be offensive to people of other beliefs, the ACLU said.The Salt Lake City Council voted recently to abandon prayers at its meetings after receiving a similar recommendation from the ACLU.
Commissioners also rejected a memo from the county attorney's office that called for non-denominational prayers, a moment of silence or the Pledge of Allegiance.
"It (prayer) is appropriate if the diversity of the community is represented," Commission Chairman Bart Barker said. "I recommend we invite all in the community to let us know of their desire to pray at a meeting and to participate. We will try to broaden our scope."
Although no official action was taken Monday, the commission decided to write a policy on prayer within the next several weeks.
All three commissioners are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Commissioners have regularly assigned employees to give prayers at the start of meetings. With few exceptions, the prayers invoke the name of Jesus Christ.
Patrick Shea, former state Democratic chairman, told commissioners Monday he believes it is OK for people to give prayers at public meetings according to their own conscience.
Prayer "facilitates the political process," he said. "The decision-making you do every day clearly calls for some kind of prayer."
Dr. Wesley B. Parish-Pixler, minister of the Hilltop United Methodist Church, stood after Shea and offered to pray at future meetings.
Parish-Pixler wrote a letter to commissioners last week asking that more non-LDS Church prayers be offered at meetings.
"Until I moved to Utah 10 months ago, I have always lived in a community with a protestant majority," Parish-Pixler's letter said. "In those communities many civic functions were begun with an invocation.
"Since coming to Utah, however, I am learning more about the sensitivities of religious minorities."
He said many people in Utah believe it is necessary to belong to the LDS Church to be involved in government.
"In a state where the perception is that the Mormons run everything, anything which can be done to promote the equal participation of all citizens is important," he said.
The unsigned memo from the county attorney's office cited court cases showing that prayers are OK at public meetings, but questioned using employees to offer the prayers.
"Even though the invitation is voluntary, the appearance of coercion arising out of the employment relationship, coupled with the almost universal emphasis on Christian prayers, creates further complications," the memo said.