Staff Writer | April 20, 2022 1:09 AM
COEUR d'ALENE — The City Council's recent decision to welcome opening prayers from a variety of faiths wasn't exactly greeted by the Hallelujah Chorus.
The group that for 20 years had a monopoly on the brief invocations delivered before every council meeting, the Kootenai County Ministerial Association, still holds almost every slot on the calendar, but not quite all.
Ministerial Association president Paul Van Noy told The Press he's "disappointed but not surprised" in the more open approach.
“Our city officials apparently do not believe that the invocation does indeed seek for the leadership and presence of the Lord,” Van Noy said.
Other area cities were contacted about their invocation policies.
Acting Hayden Mayor Matt Roetter said that for his city, the offering of an invocation has always been open to all faiths, though he's seen it in seldom practice during his six years on the council.
“I know it sounds odd that we don’t have an official policy,” Roetter said. “But under the allowance of the public comment period, anyone is able to comment, and this could include offering an invocation.”
Roetter recalled occasions like Memorial Day or Veterans Day when prayer was held. For example, Pastor Sean Hoisington, with Hayden Bible Church, often provides that service. Other pastors and clergy have, too, he said.
The issue has been occasionally discussed by council. Despite having no official policy, Roetter could think of no reason that other faiths wouldn’t be welcome to give an invocation.
Rathdrum City Administrator Leon Duce said that in the six years he’s served with the city, it’s never been an issue. The Pledge of Allegiance is recited before all meetings, but that is typically all, Duce said.
“We have not had any invocations with our city meetings, and I don’t think that’s changing,” Duce said.
On occasions like Memorial Day or the National Day of Prayer, a ceremony or event may be held at City Hall, but these events are not run by the city, Duce said. They're overseen by private citizens, church groups or organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Similar to Hayden City Council meetings, Rathdrum residents are allowed up to three minutes to speak, and that could include an invocation from any faith, Duce said.
“They have the right to use that three minutes however they want to address the council,” he said.
Post Falls Mayor Ron Jacobson has never observed invocations prior to City Council meetings in his 23 years of service, and Post Falls has no official policy on the matter, he said.
Personally, Jacobson has no objection to the suggestion of an invocation. If the council wanted to start including that prior to council meetings, they could put it to a vote, he said.
“I’ve got no issues with it,” Jacobson told The Press.
“I share some concern and wouldn’t want someone to speak that was atheist or (involved) in witchcraft,” Jacobson said. “But it would lead to an interesting discussion. Why would they want to offer an invocation? I’m not picking on them; it just doesn’t go hand in hand.”
Post Falls City Council meetings always include a period of citizen comment. Theoretically, this could include an invocation or religious address, the mayor said.