FLORENCE — The Pinal County Board of Supervisors is considering a new written policy for invocations, or prayers, at the beginning of its regular meetings.
The policy is contained in a seven-page sample resolution presented to the board Wednesday by Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer. Volkmer encouraged the board members to review it and suggest changes.
Although it’s been a topic the public has brought up at recent board meetings, county staff has actually been researching the issue extensively for several months, studying other policies at all levels of government around the country, Volkmer told the board.
He continued that the board has three options: eliminate the invocation entirely, continue its current practice or take a different position. All are legally justifiable, he said.
The board received a complaint by email that it was violating the U.S. Constitution’s establishment clause with its invocation. But after much research, “I am confident we are not violating the establishment clause,” Volkmer said. If the board were to simply continue its current practice, “our office would have no problems and no hesitancy defending this board.”
But it’s not necessarily the best practice, “and what’s before you is the best practice,” Volkmer said. He said the policy was taken almost verbatim from a city in Florida. He said it’s merely his recommendation, and he asked the board to review it and make suggestions, in preparation for a vote “in the near future.”
Volkmer recommended the board extend invitations to give the invocation only to organizations with “a brick-and-mortar presence in our community.” Volkmer said the city of Scottsdale won a case against a satanist organization from Tucson that was denied the chance to pray because that organization had no longstanding presence in Scottsdale.
The sample resolution notes, however, that the board clerk will keep a record of her attempts to solicit invocation speakers, “and of efforts to be inclusive of religions that do not have a strong demographic representation in the county.”
Supervisor Jeff McClure, R-Eagle Crest Ranch, asked if Volkmer was recommending that the invocation be given before “the gavel goes down” to signify the start of business. Volkmer said yes, but that’s only a recommendation “and by no means a mandate.”
Another recommendation is that if the scheduled chaplain or pastor is a no-show, as happened recently, the board would hold a moment of silence. If a board member gives the invocation, it’s recommended that he come down from the dais to do so.
Board Chairman Steve Miller, R-Casa Grande, said Coolidge Mayor Jon Thompson told him recently that his City Council eliminated the invocation in recent years, and “he’s not had one complaint since.”
The sample resolution states the county will provide no guidelines or limitations on an invocation, except to request that it not proselytize or advance any faith, or disparage other faiths or non-religious views.
“Statements reflecting ideals relating to peace and security for the nation; safety of our armed forces, law enforcement, firefighters and emergency personnel; wisdom for lawmakers; and justice for the people are encouraged.”