Updated: Jun 10
On June 7th, the Coeur d’Alene City Council convened to discuss, among other things, several hotly contested issues.
The first major issue before the council concerned public comments (Resolution Number 22-025). This resolution would have cut off non-Coeur d’Alene residents from presenting public comments.
The second issue related to the future of invocations preceding the council’s meetings. According to some sources, the city is considering changing the way in which invocations will be scheduled. Instead of leaving the process in the hands of the local ministerial association, the city may allow anyone to bring an invocation or nix them altogether.
According to Candlelight Pastor Paul Van Noy, it is unwise to open up the convocation schedule too broadly. The following is an open letter by the pastor ranking the choices the council has before it:
Dear Mayor Jim Hammond and Coeur d’Alene City Council Members,
It is no surprise that the invocation and its handlings have come up for discussion.
Most of you know that as President of the Ministerial Association I have served the City of Coeur d’Alene (hereafter also “City”) in the capacity of oversight, screening, and organizing various pastors to lead the opening prayer at the City Council meetings for the past 18+ years. My desire has been, and continues to be, one of service and support to the City leaders—and all of our residents.
I recognize that our community has a variety of religious groups, and that many religious leaders may want to offer an invocation. Therefore, the role and responsibility herein is best handled by the clergy—not by a city, county, state, or national government.
I have and continue to offer myself to this end—in order to protect you and our City from entanglement with or in the regulation of religious activities.
That said, your recent decision to take oversight and control of the vetting process may or will provide the City of Coeur d’Alene unwanted conflict. Therefore, I suggest you allow the Ministerial Association to continue this management.
For your decision process and consideration, I submit the following:
1) By definition, an invocation is the act of calling upon someone or something for assistance. For our purposes herein, it is the calling upon a deity or supernatural entity for the same. This fact requires careful attention. The potential of invoking a spiritual presence over our mayor, city council members, or the city itself is a serious matter—even for those who do not believe in the spiritual dimension or in spirit entities. The agnosticism or atheism of those who “believe in nothing” does not change the reality of the spirit world. The invoking of a presence or deity can be either a blessing or a curse.
2) The “Establishment Clause” also referred to as the “Separation of Church and State” (see Everson v. Board of Education 1947) is to be understood as “freedom of religion” not “freedom from religion.” Moreover, a proper perspective of “Separation of Church and State” would prohibit a city, state, or nation, from limiting, censoring, or regulating religious exercise. For this reason alone, the City of Coeur d’Alene would be wise to allow religious activity to remain in the hands of the Ministerial Association—not in the control or oversight of elected government officials.
3) The U.S. Congress has an appointed Chaplain who handles all invocations for Congress. The criteria are based upon the U.S. Constitution. Therefore, ruling out fringe, polytheistic, and non-Judeo-Christian based groups is possible. Under this methodology (as I understand it), there have been no lawsuits against the U.S. Government. They presently have a Presbyterian pastor who serves as Chaplain. This is a paid position.
4) The State handles this essentially the same way.
5) We are a monotheistic nation, founded on Biblical principles with many of those principles mentioned and/or reiterated in the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Moreover, in addition to the invocation, our City Council Meetings begin with the Pledge of Allegiance in support of “One Nation, Under God.” The simple fact that we recognize one God should allow us to maintain a commitment to the God to whom we refer in our nation’s founding documents.
6) Many groups that might desire to offer a prayer or invocation do not support our foundational principles, the United States of America itself, our State, our County or our City. Some intend to harm and would indeed work against our community—if or when possible. Therefore, it is wise to have members of the clergy handle and invoke the presence of God over our city and our City meetings.
7) If invocational prayers are not allowed at the outset of the meetings, I suspect that many will employ the 3-minute public comment allowance as an opportunity for this purpose. Moreover, this would be difficult to screen and control.
Therefore, I suggest one of the following options for the City of Coeur d’Alene:
(In order of preference)
a. Allow the Ministerial Association to resume its former role. This places all future screening processes on the Association—a luxury you are wise to appreciate.
It is noted that there is a desire to broaden the standards whereby invocation candidates may participate, and while the City must maintain “neutrality” (see McCreary v. ACLU), and cannot demonstrate “hostility” toward religious exercise—even in an effort to maintain neutrality (see Sherbert v. Verner), the Ministerial Association does indeed provide a level of protection to the City of Coeur d’Alene and members of the community. Therefore, with the present in mind, the Ministerial Association is willing to open a broader window of opportunity to members of the clergy who hold to an orthodox Christian worldview but are either unable or unwilling to participate in the formal Ministerial Association, and will notwithstanding provide a prayer appropriate to the occasion—“reflect[ing] values long part of the “Nation’s heritage” (see Town of Greece v. Galloway). In this case, requests can be made to the Ministerial Association, and invocation scheduling can be accomplished without “City” vulnerability.
b. Appoint me as (unofficial-unpaid) Chaplain to the City and allow me to handle the invocations for each meeting. This too protects the City from the potential of fringe, anti-Christian, polytheistic, subversive, and/or anti-American groups. It also offers protections against any potential 1st and/or 14th Amendment vulnerabilities and/or liabilities.
c. With great regret and caution: Discontinue the invocations altogether. However, we live in a moderately strong faith community, and I suspect this decision will continue to incite discontent. Moreover, this decision would (in effect) be an official and intentional rejection of God. I strongly discourage this action. Furthermore, with note, I must say cancelling the invocation altogether might be perceived as a demonstration of “hostility” toward religious exercise. However, I would rather see no formal invocation than one invoking a spirit entity that should otherwise be unwelcomed.
Please note: We do allow for invocations at both the state and national level. It seems fitting to continue the practice here. A refusal may be considered an act of hostility toward religion that the Establishment Clause forbids (as mentioned above).
d. Allow for city level control of the invocations. This action will make room for inevitable future lawsuits against the city.
I love our community and have a pastoral heart for its blessing and protection.
I think we all want the best for our community. I am working to that end.
Pastor Paul D. Van Noy
Candlelight Christian Fellowship
Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
Kootenai County Ministerial Association, President
The Coeur d’Alene City Council began its meeting Tuesday by reversing course on its recent path leading to limitations on public comment. Mayor Jim Hammond said that they were going to retreat due to public concern over the effects of the resolution.
Board member Kiki Miller expressed concern that the reverting to the previous policy might not allow people equal representation.
Dan Gookin also expressed his feelings about the resolution by strongly condemning any actions that would restrict freedom of speech. Loud applause followed a short address following a short speech expressing his sentiments.
After that issue was settled, Hammond moved on to discuss an issue not on the agenda: the meeting of various groups in the park one Saturday, June 11. A representative of the Coeur d’Alene Police Department told the council that they wanted to recognize all groups to assemble regardless of their views and also the right of the people to keep and bear arms.
Councilwoman Christie Wood highlighted that criminal conduct would be punished and that everyone should “respect each other and enjoy their own events.”
After a large number of public comments, the Coeur d’Alene City Attorney rose to give his opinion about the invocation situation. According to him, the invocations are constitutional, (according to the Supreme Court) but they cannot be discriminatory.
Candlelight Pastor Paul Van Noy also spoke to the city council. He said that he does not intent to keep people out of the pastoral committee discriminatorily, but believes that it would be dangerous to invoke evil spirits. Against Mayor Hammond’s objection, Van Noy read the letter that he had sent to the Council earlier.
After a motion for a moment of silence was rejected, Gookin offered a solution that was adopted unanimously. While no one will be in charge of screening the pastors who offer invocations, the invocations may only be offered by a minister of a church established in Kootenai County. It is unclear if this will include churches that are established in the future.