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McAdoo to council: Open with an invocation

Council considers prayer at start of meetings


John McAdoo thinks it’s past time the Estacada City Council returned to hearing a religious invocation before meetings.

“It’s all about traditional American history,” he said. “(When) our governing bodies started, they believed in an all powerful deity, the creator of the heavens and Earth, they believed in that and they believed that God of the universe should be involved in all phases of governing.”

McAdoo, who sits on the board of directors for Estacada Rural Fire District 69 and is the volunteer coordinator for the Estacada Community Center, appeared before the council Monday, Oct. 27, to ask that the practice be resumed.

McAdoo cited the May 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Greece vs. Galloway, which upheld prayers prior to public meetings.

In an informational packet, McAdoo included emails in which Estacada Fire Chief Bob Morrisey asked Attorney John S. Watts whether including an invocation at the start of each board meeting was legal.

“If the board decides to precede each meeting with an invocation, this would not be a violation of Oregon or federal law,” Watts responded.

Watts wrote that Greece vs. Galloway allowed for prayers before public meetings so long as the prayer was “solemn and respectful,” precedes the business portion of the meeting and does not “proselytize, discriminate or coerce for or against any particular faith.”

McAdoo told the council an invocation would not amount to proselytizing.

“If you have an invocation, you’re not saying that invocation out here,” McAdoo said gesturing toward the audience in the council chambers. “You’re holding that invocation amongst your people here on the council. And you’re asking God, creator of the universe, for guidance, direction, maybe blessings on the community or on the United States, and that’s all you’re doing. You’re not preaching to the audience.”

McAdoo told the council the Estacada Fire Board of Directors recently started having an invocation on the agenda after the Pledge of Allegiance.

The Fire Board voted for the invocation in August, and has had it on the agenda since September.

A department chaplain or member of the board will give the invocation, or one won’t be given at all if no one feels comfortable, McAdoo said.

McAdoo later said that while the decision to put an invocation on the Estacada Fire Board of Directors' agenda passed with a 4-1 vote, he hadn’t heard any negative feedback from the public unti he'd brought the issue to the City Council.

McAdoo said he became aware that his request had created a flurry of response on social media, especially after TV news picked it up.

“I wasn’t trying to cause any controversy,” he said.

McAdoo said he has received more positive than negative feedback about the suggestion so far.

History of invocations in Estacada

McAdoo reminded the council that for a long time, an invocation was said at the start of Estacada City Council meetings.

“I’d like the council to give serious consideration to returning to our historical roots,” he said.

Longtime City Recorder Denise Carey remembers that for years an invocation was on the council agenda.

Local religious figures usually would lead the invocation; sometimes the city manager.

At some point the council decided to schedule the invocation before the meeting was called to order, and the practice eventually phased out entirely in the mid-1990s, Carey recalled. The council never formally banned the practice, she said.

Councilors’ views

“I say no harm no foul, I don’t see any problem with it, although I’m on the way out. I understand people do have concerns about it. It’s hard to find a downside to that though in my opinion,” said Councilor Michele Conditt, whose term ends Dec. 31.

No other councilors voiced their opinion on invocations during the meeting.

Mayor Brent Dodrill asked that the matter be added to the agenda for the next council meeting under council business.

When reached for comment later, Councilor Sean Drinkwine voiced strong concerns.

“I’m against bringing religion into the council chambers,” Drinkwine said. “We have churches for worship.”

Drinkwine is uncomfortable that the strong Christian implications he sees implied in the suggested invocation will not be representative of everyone.

“I think combining religion and politics causes lots of problems,” he said.

Councilor Paulina Menchaca said she would be in favor of an invocation but thinks the council needs to discuss further whether it should occur before meetings are called to order or whether it should be listed on the agenda.

“I think it’s something the city should seriously consider doing again,” Councilor Emil Hnidey said. “Really all we’re doing is affirming the historic precedent of the founding of our country.”

Councilor Rob Gaskill said he has been speaking with citizens a lot about the issue and has heard that most don’t have a problem with it as long as the invocation is generic and not directed toward one religion or denomination.

While he said he does not feel strongly either way, Gaskill said he’d be OK with an invocation “as long as we allow all faiths and denominations the chance to do so.”

“My preference is that we have a moment of silence where we could all say our own prayer,” he said.

Councilor Edward Smith could not be reached for comment.

Mayor Dodrill, who is also a pastor at Estacada First Baptist Church, said he hopes the issue will not develop into a major controversy.

Dodrill said that while he doesn’t see anything inherently wrong with an invocation, the council has been functioning well without one for a number of years.

He hopes to have a good discussion on the matter at the next council meeting Monday, Nov. 10, and will be interested to see whether any of the councilors feel strongly enough about the issue to bring it to a vote.

“It’s not something I’d bring to a motion,” he said, adding that in his time as mayor, he has brought only one issue to a council vote.

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