Council anxious about satanist giving invocation
The Grand Junction City Council’s current policy on prayers delivered at its meetings has allowed atheists to offer invocations and could allow a satanist to speak next week.
However, it’s still not clear whether an atheist who was randomly selected to deliver the invocation can give his spot to a satanist, as he has announced he plans to do.
The Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers announced last week that one of its members planned on giving his slot to deliver the invocation at next week’s council meeting to a satanist, mainly to make a point that the organization wants the council to stop allowing prayer at the meetings and not have an invocation at all or just have moments of silence instead.
That member who was randomly selected to deliver the invocation is Scott Iles of Grand Junction, who said he plans on having a satanist take his place. Iles had his name randomly selected by the city clerk’s office, which handles requests from those who would like to participate in the invocation.
Some city councilors are concerned about having a satanist offer the invocation, which traditionally has been a prayer performed by representatives from mostly Christian congregations over the years.
The current council policy, adopted in 2008, stipulates that any organization or person can submit their name to be chosen to deliver the invocation and that they will be chosen randomly. If the person selected does not offer the invocation, the council defers to a moment of silence, which happened at most of the meetings in 2016. The resolution does not address substitution.
Iles’ announcement that he wants to give his opportunity to a satanist disturbed some council members.
“I’m definitely worried,” Councilor Duke Wortmann said. “As a Christian, you worry about the influence of the dark one.”
Wortmann said he values the invocation and when there are moments of silence he uses them to pray “that the Lord is with me and he watches my tongue and that I bring joy and encouragement to the room.” He acknowledges that the policy allows anyone to participate and he’s willing to change it.
“I think we should just go to a moment of silence,” he said, and alter the current policy that allows anyone to participate, even satanists. Wortmann also said he doesn’t want to allow Iles to give his spot to someone else.
City Attorney John Shaver said he has not yet received a request to meet and discuss changing the policy before the Aug. 2 meeting.
Councilor Chris Kennedy said he doesn’t support the idea of circumventing the atheists’ efforts to have the satanist deliver the invocation.
“It certainly has happened before where there have been substitute people allowed to do the invocation,” he said.
He added that he is in favor of any motion to have a moment of silence at regular meetings instead of the invocations, and that he feels it might be the right time to revisit the practice.
Regarding the Aug. 2 meeting, Mayor Rick Taggart said he wants to honor the process that was adopted by the council in 2008, which allows anyone to participate.
“We can’t just one day wake up and say we’re not going to honor what was put in place several years ago, that’s just not right,” he said. “But if we don’t want a resolution of that nature, we have to get together and modify it.”
He said he thinks the council should discuss a possible change in the near future and that he’s personally in favor of moving toward having moments of silence instead of prayer.
“It would be wise for us to look at this again because it’s been a long time and several councils since the issue has come up,” he said, noting that he would like to discuss the policy with his fellow council members. “I’ll try to get it on the agenda this fall.”
Councilor Duncan McArthur said he doesn’t think anything needs changing, and “I’d prefer to keep the policy as it is.” He said he thinks protesters are just trying to get the council to change the policy to disallow prayer and isn’t in favor of that. He had constituents suggest that he leave the council chambers if a satanist gives the invocation, but “that would really play into their hands, I think,” he said. “Whatever they’re doing, I’ll be praying.”
Councilor Bennett Boeschenstein said he’s not against keeping the current policy but he does think there should be a time limit on the invocation instated for the purposes of efficiency and he’s concerned about providing a forum for anything and everything.
“I think it’s very important to separate religion from government,” he said. “It’s definitely what our Constitution says we’re supposed to do, but it’s better to have a moment of silence than to allow something hateful.”
Councilors Phyllis Norris and Barbara Traylor Smith did not return calls seeking comment.