Will County board likely to keep same rules on prayer before meetings, officials say
Alicia FabbreDaily Southtown
Rules regarding a prayer or invocation before Will County board meetings are likely to remain the same, officials said.
Members of the county board’s executive committee Thursday decided not to make changes to the invocation given before monthly board meetings. The full county board will vote on regulations —including one about the invocation — that outline how the county board governs. Rules are reviewed every two years following elections.
Within the past month, some board members had suggested changes to the invocation. One proposed change reviewed Thursday would have allowed for a “moment of reflection” if a clergy member was not available to give an invocation or prayer before the board meetings. In the past, county board members Herb Brooks, a local pastor, or Gretchen Fritz, a local deacon, have been called on to deliver a prayer if a clergy member was not available.
Some board members expressed concern that having another board member deliver a prayer before a meeting could present issues regarding separation of church and state. They noted that of the last 13 board meetings, seven of the prayers were given by either Brooks, D-Joliet, or Fritz, R-Plainfield. Others also noted that the clergy or board members deliver Christian prayers and that other faiths are not represented.
“My biggest concern is that we want to make sure we’re not putting ourselves in legal jeopardy,” said Mimi Cowan, a Naperville Democrat recently elected to the board. “My secondary concern is that we’re representing the vibrant diversity of our communities.”
Brooks remained silent during Thursday’s discussion and would only say he found the discussion “interesting” following the meeting.
Others, however, took the proposed change to add a moment of reflection as an option and prohibit board members from delivering a prayer as a move to eliminate prayer.
“I think the message this sends is anti-religious,” board member Jim Moustis, a Frankfort Republican, said. “Asking for guidance for us to do the right thing is a good thing.”
Board members will still be allowed to deliver a prayer or invocation if needed, but there will be an effort to include other board members and not rely on the same people to fill in if needed, said Will County Board Speaker Denise Winfrey, D-Joliet.
Alicia Fabbe is a freelancer for the Daily Southtown.