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It pays to complain: Missouri city council ends invocations

Ethan Gabel

FFRF Member Ethan Gabel researched all of the invocations given at the Kirksville, Mo., City Council meetings since 2005.

His results showed that there have been more than 330 invocations given and almost every single one of them had been a prayer, mostly delivered by Christian clergy members.

So, Gabel emailed the council with his new-found information, hoping to get the council to stop the religiously infused invocations. 

“Regardless of intent, it appears that the Kirksville City Council itself endorses Christianity above all other religions and is actively ignoring the doctrine of church-state separation enshrined in the United States Constitution,” Gabel wrote in his emailed letter. 

Gabel’s letter worked.

As reported by Austin Miller in the Kirksville Daily Express, “The Kirksville City Council is ending the customary invocation that has kicked off its meetings for many years.”

Now, instead of the invocation prior to council meetings, there will be a “reading of the city’s mission and vision statements and then a moment of silence for personal reflection,” according to the Daily Express. 

Several councilmembers agreed with Gabel. 

“[The invocation] is not called a prayer for a reason,” said Councilmember Jessica Parks, as reported in the article. “However, it feels like a prayer and it pretty much has been.”

She added later: “I think it’s a good reminder for us to remember who we represent when we come to our meetings, that we’re not representing ourselves and our own wants and desires. We are representing the citizens.”

Councilmember John Gardner agreed. 

“I’m not sure I’ve ever been anywhere . . . where an invocation really, essentially, wasn’t a prayer,” he said. “That’s what they’ve always been. That’s probably not their definition and certainly not their connotation, so I understand the intent. I just think what we would end up getting is a lot of people doing Christian prayers. That’s a large part of our community . . . but we’re the city government. We’re not a church, we’re not a religious institution, and we represent all people.”