CUYAHOGA FALLS: When the invocation is given to open the Cuyahoga Falls City Council meeting today, the chaplain will likely invoke Jesus Christ.
Terry Mader said he will continue to do so whenever it is his turn to give the invocation.
He argues that not offering the prayer to God through Christ is to deny his Lord and Savior.
Council President Mary Ellen Pyke said she respects Mader’s strong beliefs.
“I was born, raised and still am an active Catholic,” said Pyke, a member of St. Joseph’s parish. “I believe in Jesus Christ. But we have to find a way to be inclusive.”
Although Mader will remain chaplain and recite the invocation on a regular basis, he and Pyke are creating a list of local clergy who would be willing to attend and open the meetings on the second or fourth Monday of the month.
By happenstance, someone aside from Mader opened the meeting March 10.
Nathan Ford, a Cuyahoga Falls High School junior, took over the duties including leading the Pledge of Allegiance.
His mother, Susan Ford, asked Pyke if he could participate to fulfill a requirement toward becoming an Eagle Scout.
Nathan wrote the invocation that he recited. While it had some of the same thoughts as Mader’s prayer, it did not invoke the name of any deity.
Controversy over the invocation began in February, with a letter to council from the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation.
Pyke appointed Mader chaplain in January. As an invocation, Mader would recite a prayer asking for guidance and for council members to work together for the good of the city. He would end the prayer with, “In Jesus’ name I pray.”
“I say ‘I’ and not ‘we’ because we means I’m speaking for everyone,” Mader said.
Before January, the invocation was usually an inspirational quote or paragraph, or a moment of silence for a particular event.
In its letter, the Freedom from Religion Foundation said council was violating the Constitution by saying a prayer that favors a particular religion.
Pyke said she took the letter as an opinion. What was more important to her, she said, was what she heard from Cuyahoga Falls residents during a March 3 forum on the issue attended by nearly 200 people.
While none objected to using a prayer as the invocation, five of those who spoke said using an overtly Christian prayer excluded some who have different beliefs from Mader.
Dr. David Aronson, who is Jewish, said the Falls has taken strides to overcome its reputation as being opposed to diversity.
“Opening City Council with a clearly Christian prayer is a step back,” he said.
Mader said he understands the need to be inclusive, and has no problem with asking local clergy to say a prayer before the meeting, even if personally he doesn’t like the idea.
“I don’t like the direction it’s going, but I accept it. I respect Mary Ellen’s decision totally,” he said. “And I appreciate the fact she could [remove] me as chaplain. I told her if she needed to do that there would be no animosity.”
He said the 30-second prayer has been turned into a hot-button issue.
“I never wanted to cause a conflict with council or the community,” Mader said. “This issue came up through an outside force.
“You mention Jesus or Christ and it draws a sword in the sand. And that’s a shame.”
Pyke said she is not trying to minimize the invocation.
“You can’t get people into the fold by excluding them,” Pyke said. “You can’t make people comfortable by excluding them, and you can’t get them to give their opinion on legislation if you exclude them.”
She wants to encourage people to attend council meetings.
“If you tell people they’re not welcome, either by words or actions, they’re not going to come.”