Politics Blog

Whatcom charter review commissioner asks that meetings open with prayer

The Whatcom County Charter Review Commission may add a new wrinkle to its meeting format: a starting prayer.

The agenda for the next commission meeting, on Monday, March 9, includes a discussion at the tail end of the meeting about whether to open future meetings with a prayer.

The request came in written form to the commission’s administrator, Jill Nixon, who works in the County Council office. The one-page letter is unsigned, but Nixon confirmed it came from commissioner Cliff Langley.

Langley’s letter begins:

Opening public meetings with prayer is part of our national heritage, culture and tradition. Would you please therefore place on the agenda the following motion.

Move that in a spirit of tolerance and respect for tradition and history; at the beginning of our regularly scheduled commission meetings, along with the Pledge of Allegiance a prayer is offered to the God under whom we stand as a nation, the God of our founders, our Creator and the Supreme Ruler of the Universe to whom we are grateful for our liberties. Included in the prayer would be a request for wisdom, insight and guidance as we attempt to perfect the Home Rule Charter of Whatcom County.

The letter and the agenda were made public just this afternoon, on Wednesday, March 4, and county attorney Dan Gibson, who sits in on commission meetings, couldn’t immediately say whether the request violates any church-state separation requirement.

“I’ll frankly have to look into it to ascertain,” Gibson said in a phone interview late Wednesday. “I know that some bodies do have invocations; I don’t know frankly whether that’s practiced in Washington. We’ve gotten a heightened level of prohibition against any religious service in a public setting. Whether that applies in this instance, I don’t know.”

The March 9 commission meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. in the Garden Room (lowest level) of the Civic Center, 322 N. Commercial St., Bellingham.

The Charter Review Commission meets once a decade to propose changes to the county charter — essentially the constitution for county government. It will continue to meet until July. Proposals that make it through the commission will appear on the November ballot for final approval by voters.