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Today's word on journalism

Monday, January 29, 2007

Words as weapons:

"When he had a pen in his hand it was like giving a kid a machine gun."

--Peter Hall, theater director, on "Angry Young Man" playwright John Osborne (1929-1994)

Most Cache Valley city councils open meetings with prayer

By Ryan M. Monk

December 13, 2006 | CACHE COUNTY -- Fourteen city councils in Cache Valley regularly hold prayer before each meeting.

Paradise and Trenton councils don't pray, according to their town clerks, Bev Schiefer and Macall Smith, respectively. All the other cities that responded -- Hyrum, Millville, Providence, River Heights, North Logan, Hyde Park, Smithfield, Clarkston, Richmond, Lewiston, Newton, Wellsville, Nibley, and Logan -- do so. Mendon and Cornish are not counted in this story because they could not be reached for comment.

"I don't know why we don't [pray]," said Schiefer. It wasn't done back when Mayor Lee Atwood was elected in 1998, she said.

"I think it helps," said Hyrum Mayor Dean Howard. He feels prayer helps calm and put everyone in a better state of mind.

When asked if he thinks the practice goes against the divide of church and state, he said the First Amendment doesn't say that church and state have to be separate. The prayers, which are nondenominational, are listed on Hyrum's agenda as an invocation and come right after the pledge of allegiance.

"We once had a Boy Scout troop lead us in the pledge and then give a prayer," said Howard.

The prayers may be listed on the agenda differently for each town, such as "opening ceremony" for Newton and Wellsville, or "opening remarks" for River Heights, but they all follow a similar pattern. They are usually delegated out to the various council members to do and "most often they do pray," said City Administrator Skarlet Bankhead, speaking for Providence. If a guest would like to lead it or do something different like read a piece of poetry it has to be approved by the mayor.

In many cities prayer is the standard opening and something like a moment of silence is the exception to the rule.

"In my nine years it was always a payer except once," said Dean Clegg, city recorder for Smithfield.

Tyler Barnum, 31, a former USU student, was frustrated with but not surprised that the councils pray. While growing up in Smithfield he was in Sky View's marching band, which prayed every time they went out on the field or got onto the bus. Because it was always someone Mormon giving the prayer it was always slanted that way, he said. It made him feel left out because he isn't LDS.

The only way for it to really be nondenominational, he said, is to make it a moment of silence so everyone can do their own thing.

Small cities in Cache Valley aren't the only ones who pray before politics. Since its conception in 1798 every meeting of the United States Senate has opened with a prayer from the chaplain's office. The current chaplain (a nonpartisan and nonpolitical office) Barry C. Black honors the "the historic separation of Church and State, but not the separation of God and State," according to the Senate's Web site, http://www.senate.gov.

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