Our Voice: Kennewick not ready to mix prayer and city business

The reluctance by most Kennewick city officials to embrace the thought of starting each city council meeting with a prayer is an indication the idea should be dropped.

Religion is personal, and forcing it into a public arena where it is not enthusiastically welcome is bound to cause tension instead of the harmony sought by praying in the first place.

Kennewick City Councilman John Trumbo suggested recently that council meetings begin with a prayer, no more than 90 seconds and invoking the Christian God. He said prayer would help those attending get in the right frame of mind before dealing with city business. Now they open with the Pledge of Allegiance.

While those of faith might agree, there is a good chance others would feel uncomfortable and marginalized if they felt forced to participate in something they don't believe in every time they attended a city council meeting.

The city committee members assigned to review the proposal have said the issue is tabled indefinitely because of more pressing matters they need to address.

If this is a stalling tactic, it should be taken as a sign the issue is considered too contentious to tackle at this time and should be allowed to fade away.

Trumbo's proposal comes on the heels of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing a town board in Greece, N.Y., to continue starting its meetings with a prayer.

The court was divided 5-4, however, which indicates there is still strong opposition to blurring the line between religion and public meetings.

In this particular case, two regular attendees of Greece town meetings, one Jewish and one atheist, complained the continuous Christian prayers made them feel detached from their community.

One of the reasons the court favored the town prayer system, however, is that Greece officials tried not to discriminate and made attempts to recruit representatives of different faiths to participate.

But in her dissent, Justice Elena Kaman said they did not try hard enough and that every meeting ended up beginning with prayers from only one faith.

That is not the way to promote an inclusive atmosphere.

When Trumbo made his request, he said only a Christian God should be acknowledged in a prayer at a government function, but later acquiesced and said if the city had to require other faiths be represented, it would not bother him.

However, the number of religions and belief systems is so varied that it seems a logistical nightmare to try to include them all.

A prayer should be something that brings comfort, but in a public setting it can make people feel awkward and excluded. That's not how citizens should feel at a city council meeting.