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Invocations get County Council blessing

4-3 vote officially puts the policy on prayer into practice

What had been unofficial for six weeks is now official: It's OK to pray before each meeting of the Salt Lake County Council.

On Tuesday, a 4-3 vote officially put into practice a prayer policy that Salt Lake Deputy District Attorney Gavin Anderson said he believes will withstand legal challenges.

The vote came absent fanfare and absent debate on lines decided months ago when the nine-member council endorsed the practice absent a formal policy. At that time, all three Democrats — Jim Bradley, Joe Hatch, and Randy Horiuchi — voted thumbs down on the policy, with most saying it would be an administrative nightmare, leave the county legally vulnerable and would be offensive to those who say prayer should be private.

But the Republican majority prevailed Tuesday night, with County Council chairman Marv Hendrickson, Winston Wilkinson and Russell Skousen lining up behind the initiative's sponsor, David Wilde, in their support. Two others, Republicans Steve Harmsen and Michael Jensen, were absent.

"I feel truly that in the last six weeks that there is not anything we have done more as a County Council to recognize cultural diversity than this policy," Wilde said, pointing to the variety of prayers offered so far.

Representatives from the Baptist, Lutheran, LDS, Japanese Christian and Bahai faiths have led prayers, and Tuesday night, it was Bob Taylor, a spiritual adviser for American Indians who offered a brief invocation.

Adorned with feather, moccasins and a jacket sporting a buffalo, Taylor asked the Creator to bless the council and their families, and sought spiritual help for farmers and the unborn. Taylor offered the prayer, and within 30 minutes, the County Council had the policy before them, scheduled for a vote.

Anderson told them the policy was modeled after similar documents drafted in Salt Lake City and Murray that had both been challenged in the courts and withstood the scrutiny.

As long as the policy makes prayer available to a diversity of groups in the community, Salt Lake County should remain on firm legal ground, Anderson said.

"Those cases were very useful and instructive to ensure we put in place a process that comports with the constitution," he said. "We should not have any legal problem."


E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com