City & County of Honolulu

Council invocation
is challenged

A critic says the prayer has to be
taken off the official agenda

By Mary Adamski

The traditional invocation at the beginning of City Council meetings is under challenge by an advocacy group that has succeeded in getting "God" removed from the Honolulu Police Department oath and other public religious expression.

Hawaii Citizens for Separation of State and Church will deliver its complaints about the scheduled prayer at the Council meeting tomorrow, said President Mitch Kahle in a release.

He said "almost every invocation is distinctly Christian, containing overt references to Jesus Christ." Only once in the 11 meetings tracked in 2002 did the Council hear a non-Christian message, he said. That was a March 13 prayer offered by a representative of the Islamic Center of Hawaii.

Councilman Ann Kobayashi said: "It is not just Christian. I believe in having any kind. We've had Unitarian, we had Buddhist. I think that's the way most government bodies start. We need all the help we can get, from whatever source."

Each Council member takes a turn in finding someone to offer the prayer, she said.

Kahle offered the Council advice on ways to continue the invocation tradition legally.

"To pass constitutional scrutiny, the invocation must be removed from the official agenda and record. It must precede the Call to Order," he said in the press release. That is the procedure in both houses of the state Legislature, where a prayer is offered daily but before the regular order of business. The Council, however, has the invocation scheduled after its Call to Order and recital of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Kahle said the Council must establish a written policy and guidelines about the invocation, giving equal prayer time to the diverse religious beliefs in the community.

"I think we do need to set guidelines," said Kobayashi. "We can change that. Whatever makes people happy."

Kahle cited a ruling by the Los Angeles County Superior Court that enjoined the city of Burbank from allowing sectarian prayers at city council meetings and ruled that such prayer violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The decision was upheld on Sept. 9 by the California State Court of Appeal.

"All clergy must be warned that 'sectarian' invocations and prayers are prohibited by the Constitution and violate City Council policy," said Kahle.

City & County of Honolulu

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