An Illinois governing body chose to keep with tradition after community members questioned its practices.
The Coles County Board decided to leave the opening prayer as part of the regular monthly meeting after a letter from the public urged members to reconsider.
In a letter signed by more than 40 Coles County residents, the board was asked to replace the invocation with a moment of silent reflection.
“When attending the swearing in for the new members of the County Board on Monday, Dec. 3, 2018, a number of us were disappointed to hear a Christian prayer,” the letter stated. “Public invocations and prayer should reflect and respect the values we hold in common as American.”
The letter cited the First Amendment’s “nod to the separation of church and state” as a reason to change the invocation to a moment of silent reflection.
Board Chairman Mike Zuhone said once the letter was received, it was sent to committee for consideration.
Zuhone said he did not know exactly how many members of the board were Christians because he had never asked the question, but he knew of several board members who were.
In the letter, citizens asked for a response from the board which came in the form of a public statement explaining the decision to keep the tradition of the invocation. Board members also offered a compromise by including the moment of silent reflection to the agenda in addition to the invocation.
“In this more or less grass-roots level of government, we do not see the business of the county as political in nature, but we do see it as being community minded,” the statement reads. “By acknowledging the division between religious and non-religious viewpoints, we are choosing to work toward the position of understanding, tolerance, and compromise for all our citizens.”
In the statement, board members called the invocation a “dedicated effort to unify the hearts and mindset of those gathered to conduct the business of the county.” The board also acknowledged that the moment of silent reflection “allows recognition of the diversity of all individuals as to their beliefs and practices within our society.”
The board decision gained attention from State Senator Dale Righter.
“I want to thank the Coles County Board for holding steadfast and maintaining the opening prayer before their meetings,” said Sen. Righter. “Just as it is done in the General Assembly, it is completely appropriate and legal for the County Board to begin with a prayer. My thanks to the board members who stood behind this longstanding and important tradition.”
To read the full board statement, click here.
The letter from concerned citizens is available here.