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Merced County Board of Supervisors introduces prayer to regular public meeting

Supervisor Daron McDaniel, chairman of the county’s Board of Supervisors, seen here in 2015, says all faiths will be welcome to participate in the invocation at the supervisors’ meetings.
Supervisor Daron McDaniel, chairman of the county’s Board of Supervisors, seen here in 2015, says all faiths will be welcome to participate in the invocation at the supervisors’ meetings. Merced Sun-Star file

At the start of Tuesday’s Merced County Board of Supervisors meeting, the Rev. John Motz said a prayer asking God to give the county’s leaders wisdom for the decisions they were about to make.

The invocation even was listed on the meeting’s formal agenda. It’s a subtle change from the way the board has started its meetings in the past.

Board Chairman Daron McDaniel said the invocation was something he “felt needed to be there.”

“Some of us pray in my office before each meeting, and I thought I’d bring it to the dais,” he said.

For the first prayer, McDaniel asked Motz, who is the pastor of the New Life Community Church in Atwater, which McDaniel attends.

Each month, the supervisors will take turns and invite someone from their district to do the invocation, McDaniel said.

Supervisor Jerry O’Banion, who’s been on the board more than two decades, said the matter of a routine invocation was the “prerogative” of the board chairman.

“I did it a few times, though not every single meeting,” O’Banion said of his six separate stints as chair.

The practice is not unique to the Board of Supervisors. Many city councils have an invocation before meetings, including Merced, Atwater, Livingston and Los Banos. Other counties’ boards of supervisors, including Fresno, Madera and Stanislaus, also designate an invocation on their agendas.

McDaniel said all faiths would be welcome to participate in the invocation at the supervisors’ meetings, but it would be up to individual supervisors to invite faith leaders from their districts.

Leslie Gielow Jacobs, a constitutional law professor at McGeorge School of Law, said the Supreme Court established in a 2014 case that prayers at government meetings do not violate the First Amendment. In the case, justices relied on the establishment clause and interpreted what it means in a modern context, she said.

“It’s said as a ceremonial recitation as opposed to taught as truth,” Jacobs said.

Brianna Calix: 209-385-2477

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