Jessica Mathews /

The Livingston County Board of Commissioners appears poised to start interjecting prayers into future meetings.

The board met Tuesday night to elect Commissioners Dave Domas as Chair and Jay Drick as vice chair.

It also made some changes and amendments to board rules. Currently a “Moment of Silent Reflection” starts off meetings, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.

During discussion, Drick stated he wanted to scrap the words “silent reflection” and put in the word “prayer”. He indicated it would be optional as to who would lead the prayer, possibly a commissioner, or they could bring in another person to pray for the Commission. Drick formally put forward a motion to amend the board agenda to state “Moment of Prayer”, which was supported by Commissioner Wes Nakagiri.

Commissioner Doug Helzerman said he felt the topic warranted broader discussion and should be referred to committee for vetting – clarifying he was in favor of the idea but wanted to get it right the first time and not have to change it or be forced to change it.

Commissioner Jay Gross also supported the recommendation to move the item to committee. He said he felt some aspects of the idea need to be discussed thoroughly – including how to manage it, religious affiliation and who would be designated as the person to author the prayer etc.

The item was unanimously referred to the General Government Committee.

As to the legality of such a move, The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan addresses legislative prayer on its website. It states:

“The Jackson County Board of Commissioners opens its public meetings with an invocation delivered by one of its nine commissioners. The commissioners all deliver overtly Christian prayers, often in the name of Jesus Christ, and do not allow members of other faiths to lead the prayer. Citizens who attend the meetings have little choice but to participate, even if doing so violates their conscience.

When Peter Bormuth rose during the public-comment period at a board meeting and asked the commission to alter its prayer practice, at least one commissioner turned his back on him. After Bormuth filed suit, arguing that this prayer practice violated the Establishment Clause, one of the commissioners publicly referred to him as a “nitwit.” Another warned against allowing invited guests to give invocations for fear that they would express non-Christian religious beliefs.

The trial court dismissed his lawsuit, a split panel of the Sixth Circuit reversed, and the full Sixth Circuit agreed to re-hear the case “en banc.” In March 2017, the ACLU joined a friend-of-the-court brief filed in the Sixth Circuit, arguing that the Jackson County Commission’s practice of opening all its meetings with exclusively Christian prayers violates the Establishment Clause.

Unfortunately, in September 2017 the full Sixth Circuit ruled against Bormuth and upheld the commission’s legislative prayer practice. In June 2018 the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case”.