WATERLOO — Waterloo City Council members have resurrected a debate over prayers during their meetings.
The issue was raised Monday during a work session to revise the city’s administrative code of ordinances and showed a majority of current council members support the controversial activity.
While Waterloo is one of just two large Iowa cities that allow prayers to open public meetings, the practice has been sporadic. Most meetings over the past two years have started with just a moment of silence.
While majority of the council members indicated they were all right with secular prayers during the meetings, there was a disagreement over semantics.
Councilman Pat Morrissey suggested changing the agenda to call for “invocation or moment of silence” at the start of a meeting.
“Invocation is a more generic rather than religious term,” Morrissey said. “That’s in due respect to those people who are either agnostic or atheistic who aren’t on board with a prayer.”
Council members Sharon Juon, Jerome Amos Jr. and Ray Feuss said they could support Morrissey’s suggestion. But council members Steve Schmitt and Margaret Klein disagreed for opposite reasons.
Schmitt said the word should remain “prayer,” and each council member should have an opportunity to periodically invite persons to lead the opening prayer.
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Klein said the meetings should include just a moment of silence.
“I get a little nervous about public prayer in government buildings,” Klein said. “I’m good with my own prayer, my own private moment. I just like it the way we’ve been doing it.”
The city in 2004 ended what had been a long-standing tradition to open weekly Waterloo council meetings with prayer.
In 2014, a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court ruling upheld sectarian prayers before government meetings as constitutional, provided they aren’t “coercive,” don’t denigrate other religions and do not require participation by people who do not share the same beliefs.
Mayor Quentin Hart reinstated the opening prayers in 2016, asking each council member on a rotating basis to recruit someone to lead the prayer at the first meeting of each month. The prayers included Christian and Jewish religious leaders and even an atheist.
“After awhile there was only one or two council people that were actually participating,” Hart said. “The question is: Is council going to be committed?
“This has to be all inclusive of those that do believe and those that may not necessarily believe in the same things that we do,” he added. “We have to make sure that we’re balanced.”
The decision on whether to leave a prayer or invocation on the agenda is expected to be made when council members complete the ongoing review of the administrative code and bring the entire document up for a vote.