Barrington's village board meetings often begin with a religious invocation just after the Pledge of Allegiance, but now the village has a new written policy designed to ensure outreach and diversity in those opening prayers.
"The intent of the policy is to embrace a practice of diversity," Village Attorney Jim Bateman explained Monday. "It's more or less making our internal process more disciplined to ensure diversity."
The village has long turned to the Barrington Ministerial Association to provide a variety of volunteer clergy to lead religious invocations at the start of meetings.
The new written policy not only formalizes that practice, but also requires annual mailings to other religious organizations, as well as a general invitation to the public, to find volunteers to lead invocations.
Bateman, who's been monitoring federal case law on such issues, said the new policy is an example of the village being proactive, not the result of any complaints.
There are hundreds of years of precedent for legislative bodies beginning sessions with a prayer, but recent appellate court cases have strengthened the need for written policies, Bateman said. In such cases, the courts have upheld the practice of religious invocations when it was backed up by a written policy, he added.
Barrington Village President Karen Darch said attendees at village board meetings, and residents who watch the meetings on television, likely won't notice any differences because the policy is a reflection of the open attitude the village has practiced all along.