The Santa Clarita City Council, after briefly debating religion in government and the separation of church and state, agreed to begin each council meeting with a moment of prayer or reflection.
Councilwoman Jan Heidt, who expressed reservations about mixing government with religion, asked her colleagues to forgo a roll-call vote because a negative vote on the issue could expose a council member to criticism from the public.
The council acted late Tuesday night at the urging of Councilman Howard P. (Buck) McKeon, who noted that many government bodies--from Congress to state legislatures--open their proceedings with prayer.
In addressing McKeon, Heidt said, “I just don’t want anybody to be judged if they disagree with you,” Heidt said.
But resident Skip Newhall said the council should not allow prayers in the council chambers because it could suggest the city was endorsing some religions over others. “Religion belongs in the churches,” Newhall said. “That’s why we have them.”
McKeon said a prayer or moment of reflection merely would acknowledge the spiritual side of the community. “I have no ambition to bring religion in government,” he said.
In an unusual move, the council did not vote on McKeon’s request but allowed Mayor Jo Anne Darcy to declare that each meeting would begin with prayer, inspirational remarks or a moment of silence. Each council member would take turns inviting guest clergy or speakers to offer the prayer or remarks.