A majority of Huntington Beach City Council members are looking to crack down on what they’re calling highly politicized invocations – the prayers and speeches delivered at the beginning of their meetings.
They are directing the city manager and city attorney to come back with a policy to create a list of religious leaders, evaluate those leaders and create a rotating system for them to offer prayers at city council meetings.
“In very recent years, the greater Huntington Beach Interfaith Council, which the city has utilized for invocations has become highly political and invocations at times have become political soapboxing opportunities,” said Councilwoman Gracey Van Der Mark at the Feb. 21 meeting.
Maneck Bhujwala, president of the interfaith council, said in a Friday interview that council members didn’t speak to the group before requesting the change.
He also said the interfaith council is concerned city council members won’t be able to maintain the same diversity of speakers.
“Our mission has been to help promote cultural diversity and beauty and all that and so we do have a concern that they might not maintain the diversity and that’s something we have to see,” Bhujwala said.
In the two meetings since the policy was brought into question, Christian police and fire chaplains have performed the invocation.
Van Der Mark along with Mayor Tony Strickland requested the policy and received support from Councilmembers Pat Burns and Casey McKeon – the new city council majority that was elected last year.
Neither Van Der Mark nor Strickland responded to emailed questions from the Voice of OC.
Strickland said the evaluation would ensure people delivering the invocation are from a faith-based group and not a “hate group, for example.” He also said there have been “hundreds” of complaints about the invocations.
“I believe a prayer should