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Invocation distracts from city's real issues

A Times Editorial
Published November 19, 2006


Fresh off a controversy-free election season, the newly configured City Council stands poised to take on the serious issues facing Crystal River. That is, if it can avoid falling into an old trap.

At the first meeting of the new board last week, a question arose again about what kind of invocation should kick off the council's meetings. As he has before, council member John Kostelnick took issue with Mayor Ron Kitchen's penchant for delivering a strongly Christian prayer at the start of the meeting, noting, correctly, that not every citizen of Crystal River shares Kitchen's faith.

Kostelnick favors an invocation that would be inclusive: either a moment of silence during which people would pray, or not, as they see fit. Another option would be a nondenominational prayer that would respect the faiths of everyone.

These are common-sense alternatives involving an issue that should have been resolved many years ago. The fact that it remains a concern reflects the mayor's stubbornness more than his religious fervor.

Throughout Citrus County and around the United States, public bodies and even groups such as civic organizations have settled this question in a simple manner: They have agreed to respect the faiths of everyone in their community.

What is so hard about that? Why must someone who demands that his faith be respected by all and that he be allowed to honor his spiritual leader as he sees fit deny his fellow citizens the same respect and consideration?

Years ago, the Citrus County School Board faced a similar conflict and, after much righteous and sanctimonious huffing and puffing, decided to rotate the invocation among its members. This accomplished the fairly simple goal of starting a meeting by asking for divine guidance for the good of the community without offending members of that same community.

The best thing is that it allowed School Board members to move on to doing the work that voters elected them to do.

The Crystal River City Council should take heed. Because the mayor has no interest in respecting the faiths of the thousands of citizens who do not attend the same church that he does, his fellow council members should take away from the mayor the honor of giving the invocation. They should begin using a moment of silence or possibly rotating the invocation among themselves.

This not only will show due respect to the people of Crystal River, but it also will keep the council from getting bogged down in a potentially emotional conflict in which no one is inclined to change positions.

During the recent election, when the candidates discussed the important matters facing the city, the nature of the invocation made no one's list. They talked, instead, about the deteriorating water quality of Kings Bay, the need to address stormwater runoff, how to pursue annexations, and the future of the Police and Fire departments.

These are legitimate items for the council and the community, and the members must insist that these matters command their full attention. Getting sidetracked on a nonissue such as what kind of prayer to say is a luxury the city cannot afford.

[Last modified November 18, 2006, 20:03:21]

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