DuPage County Board votes to continue invocations at board meetings

The DuPage County Board will continue its decadeslong tradition of beginning meetings with a public prayer.

Board members on Tuesday voted 11-6 to approve a resolution affirming the practice of inviting religious leaders to conduct invocations before board meetings.

"I see it (the invocation) as something that allows us to educate ourselves and allows us a moment to reflect," said board member Jim Healy, a Naperville Republican.

The vote divided the county board largely along party lines, with six of the seven Democrats opposing the resolution. The board members who voted "no" are Dawn DeSart, Sheila Rutledge, Elizabeth Chaplin, Ashley Selmon, Julie Renehan and Mary FitzGerald Ozog.

"I come here for a public meeting," said Ozog of Glen Ellyn. "I don't come here for prayer. I go to church for prayer."

The vote came months after Ozog and other Democrats called for a discontinuation of the invocation.

DeSart, of Aurora, said in December that she was "disturbed by the primarily Christian prayers" at the beginning of county board meetings. She said there should be a separation of church and state.

Despite those remarks, DeSart earlier this month said she had no plans to seek a formal vote to eliminate the invocation this year because of the Republican majority. She said she didn't foresee movement on the issue until after the 2020 election.

Republican board member Sam Tornatore, who was absent on Tuesday, pushed for the resolution.

Officials say there's been an invocation at board meetings since at least 1973, which is when the county started keeping copies of agendas.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2014 weighed in on the issue of prayer at council meetings. That 5-4 high court opinion seemed to support DuPage's practice when it said prayers are OK as long as they do not denigrate non-Christians or try to win converts.

According to the county board resolution, the invocation "is led by various local faith leaders representing the richness of religious and cultural expression in DuPage County."

"The practice is deemed by the county board as a celebration of diversity, thoughtful expression and tolerance while lending an essential element of dignity and solemnity to the proceedings," the resolution reads.

But Chaplin, of Downers Grove, said people attending a government meeting shouldn't feel the need to stand for an invocation.

"The way that we can be inclusive - truly inclusive - is by getting rid of the prayer altogether," she said.

Rutledge, of West Chicago, said starting meetings with a prayer denies the "simple truth that we are here to be our brother's keeper, not our God's servant."

She said eliminating invocations would be "a symbolic gesture toward a more representative local government."

Several Democrats suggested the board have a moment of silence instead.

"Personally, I like the invocations," said Renehan, of Hinsdale, but the practice doesn't need to continue simply because it's a tradition.

But Sadia Covert, the only Democrat who supported the resolution, said the invocation is a platform for diversity and unity.

The Naperville resident said the invocation allows believers and nonbelievers alike "to share about where they come from."

"I have met with many different groups," she said. "I have met with so many different people who have said, 'Sadia, how can we be a part of that invocation that you have?' So I'm compiling a list, and I welcome everybody to be included."

  DuPage County Board members bow their heads during the invocation on Tuesday. They later approved a resolution affirming the practice of invocations before their regular county board meetings. Bev Horne/
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