December 21, 2014

Elyria
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Commissioner Tom Williams wants meetings to open with prayer

Tom Williams

Tom Williams

ELYRIA — When he first took office, Lorain County Commissioner Tom Williams said he wanted to propose the idea of opening commission meetings with a prayer by clergy.

But after talking with friends who were attorneys, he decided not to.

“They told me to hold off for the time being,” Williams said.

But now that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the long-time practice of prayer to open government meetings, Williams has pitched the idea again, saying he felt something had been missing at the county level for some time.

“With the vital matters we deal with in the county, it’s good to have an opening prayer,” Williams said. “It’s hard to fault anyone looking for guidance.”

On Monday, the nation’s high court upheld by a 5-4 vote the practice of opening government meetings with prayer. The ruling focused on the case of Greece, N.Y., a town of 100,000 near Rochester, N. Y., whose officials have begun town hall meetings with prayer.

The ruling said such prayers did not violate Constitutional First Amendment rights so long as they don’t promote or denigrate any particular religion or coerce anyone to take part.

The ruling was in response to a suit filed in 2006 by a Jew and an atheist who claimed the prayers were predominantly Christian in nature.

“We have different beliefs, but it comes down to believing in a God,” William said, adding he works with and supports people of different faiths.

All three commissioners agreed to have letters sent to different religions inviting them to take part.

“If they want to come, that would be great,” Commissioner Lori Kokoski said. “We’ll take it from there and see what happens.”

By inviting clergy of all faiths to offer prayer to begin commission meetings, “We show respect to all religions,” Williams said.

Neither Williams nor Kokoski foresee the proposal running into opposition.

“Why would anyone object to having an opening prayer?” Williams asked. “It just reminds us that Lorain County prospers.”

“It’s a positive thing for county government,” Kokoski said. “When I was on Lorain City Council, we always opened with a prayer. And they still do.”

Williams added he hopes the practice of having an opening prayer will bring the board of commissioners closer together “and show we’re not there to just represent the people but to do God’s work as well.”

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.