The discussion surrounding potential changes to the invocation policy at Susanville City Council meetings drew a crowd Wednesday, Jan. 20.
Presented with the idea of changing the invocation to include a thought of the day, a possible rotation system for councilmembers to choose a thought of the day or an invocation, or to change it for another option, the councilmembers voiced their thoughts on the suggested alteration, heard from voices in the community and gave direction to city staff.
In March 2020, the council unanimously approved Ordinance No. 20-1025, amending Section 2.04.070 of the Susanville Municipal Code changing the thought of the day to an invocation at future city council meetings.
According to City Administrator/ Chief of Police Kevin Jones, there was some confusion, but the essence of the direction he received from the council Wednesday, he wrote, was for staff to, “Check with the city attorney to see if we can replace the invocation with a prayer or thought of the day that is rotated to each city councilmember at each meeting. If allowable, a city councilmember would submit a prayer to our attorney two weeks in advance to see if that prayer is legal to be read aloud at a meeting. Essentially, each city councilmember would have an option to read an approved prayer or a thought of the day.”
The matter will be back before the city council at the next meeting for potential action.
City Councilmember Quincy McCourt spoke on why he brought up the topic during a December meeting.
“About nine months ago, we had what was just referred to as the thought of the day, where different staff members would share something important to them, to be able to give thanks and different councilmembers would take their turn as well. Each meeting was different,” councilmember McCourt shared during the discussion.
“Then it was brought up to introduce an invocation, and we all voted for it. It seemed like a really, really, really good idea,” he added.
Now, he said, “The thought was, what if we could go back to a combination of one of the ways we had it before, and the way that we enjoy today. To be able to share your prayers and share your thanks in your own way and to know that will be respected and it would be appreciated,” he said, clarifying, “nobody wants to get rid of it. Nobody wants to abolish the prayer.”
Other councilmembers spoke, including Mayor Mendy Schuster who said she does not want to see a change to the current invocation and noted she does not want city resources being used on this topic when there are other area’s needing staff time.
“Prayer is very important and needs to stay at every meeting,” Schuster said. “Leave the invocation in place.”
“As you all know, we just lost a Sacramento County deputy and a K9. Well, what better time tonight to do a moment of silence for them? Well, we can’t do that because we have no choice but this (the invocation). Why can’t we have more than one choice? Why can’t we have a moment of silence,” councilmember Kevin Stafford said.
“It was never taking away the prayer. It was about adding to it,” Stafford continued, adding he wasn’t sure how the agenda item was put out into the public before the agenda was posted.
Councilmembers Moore and Thomas Herrera thanked all the constituents who reached out to them regarding the matter.
Herrera added he has a unique responsibility and feels so humbled to be able to serve in this position.
“For me, God has changed my life,” Herrera said, explaining the importance of God and prayer in his life; however, he added, “in America, we do have the freedom to choose and the freedom of religion.”
During the meeting, members of the public were also able to share their thoughts on the invocation and thought of the day.
Some community members shared they went to the meeting after seeing a social media post saying prayer was being removed and many speakers noted they wanted the invocation to remain at the meetings, some suggested the council should include a prayer asking for wisdom and the Lord’s guidance as they make decisions.
“Any modification to our current municipal code only serves to reduce the importance of prayer and creates a situation where some meetings would be without prayer. It would also take staff time and that is very limited,” said meeting attendee Pat Holley, saying there were other priorities and asking the city take no action.
Additionally, some expressed concern that the thought of the day would remove the invocation, and clarified they wouldn’t mind if the thought of the day was included in addition to the prayer. Others also mentioned this was an intentionally divisive issue.
The matter will be back at a future meeting for possible action.