A prayer and a gavel
The prayer now precedes the gavel at the opening of Mesa County Commissioner meetings.
The hope by the commissioners is that by offering a religious invocation before their meetings are formally called to order, they can avoid the legal battle threatened by local atheists.
Perhaps, but not likely.
As we have said before, we think this fight is an unfortunate and unnecessary one. The invocations, even when they include specific reference to Jesus, harm no one. They are a reflection of the commissioners’ own beliefs rather than an endorsement of any particular religion.
The outrage by those opposed to the invocations appears manufactured, part of a national effort that aims to drive nearly all mention of religion from the public square, which is never what the founding fathers intended.
All that said, however, it’s hard to conclude the commissioners are on sound legal footing with their version of public invocations, even if they come before meetings are officially called to order.
There is far more legal foundation for something similar to what the Grand Junction City Council has adopted. A local religious leader is chosen at random from a list compiled by the city. A different one gives the invocation at the start of each meeting, thereby avoiding the appearance the city endorses any particular religion. The policy also urges those who give the invocations to avoid proselytizing at city meetings.
We understand that the commissioners, particularly Janet Rowland, believe strongly they have the right to offer invocations as they see fit at the beginning of each meeting. They pledge to fight any legal challenge.
There is a chance — a very slim one, we believe — that the county could fight for its invocation policy all the way to the Supreme Court and win. More likely, they would spend a lot of taxpayers’ money and lose.
The commissioners ought to consider whether such a fight is the best use of county resources.
An agreement that allows invocations in a somewhat different form seems a far better solution.