Moment of silence

November 30, 2001 12:00 am

We arent sure prayer at City Council meetings was hurting anybody.

Now were certain it is hurting everybody.

And however tempted you might be to say Gary Dielman started it, it is only fair to add John DeShiro, Larry Pearson, Pat Smith and others have escalated it.

Lets stop the blame game.

What we are seeing in our community is clear evidence that two rights do make a wrong.

It is time for the Baker City Council to right that wrong and provide the kind of leadership that will allow the city to emerge from this bitter dispute intact, although not unscathed.

That leadership must begin with Mayor Nancy Shark.

Shark called for the now famous second vote on the council-opening prayer. In all fairness to Mr. Dielman, that vote did come late in a council meeting under the heading of Other business. The public, much less the council itself, was unaware the vote was coming. After no discussion, a vote was called, and the prayer upheld 5-2.

We find it hard to accept that this truly settles the matter.

Discussion could have included councilors concerns about how the prayers do or dont marginalize members of the public who must decide to participate, as well as whether speech can be considered truly free if it mustnt include the word Jesus.

It is a fascinating problem, really. One citizens free exercise of religion includes praying at City Council meetings; another citizens freedom from governmental establishment of religion includes not having to pray at City Council meetings.

Is the councils insistence that it is optional to stand for the prayer sufficient? Or do people coming before the council and the citys employees who work during those council meetings feel compelled to stand lest they face reprisals from one or more council members who value the prayer?

Had Shark made the prayer question a scheduled agenda item, we might have heard these issues explored.

Unfortunately, the tenor of the recall campaign makes it impossible to have that open discussion today. If you didnt have reason to fear reprisal from the council for opposing prayer before, you have only to look at the campaign against Gary Dielman to find cause to keep your head down in this debate.

The council can still bring some healing, however.

Mayor Shark, lets see a discussion and vote on a question that has yet to be called: replacing the rotating, denominational prayers with moments of silence.

Dielman says prayer excludes those whose religion isnt represented, or who dont believe in one particular theology.

DeShiro says the prayer solemnizes the meeting.

A moment of silence in which everyone present can invite whatever memory, sentiment or deity into their life would solemnize the occasion, too.

Councilors, please: Prove that city government works to include everyone, regardless of their religious beliefs.