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Onalaska Common Council considers adding prayer to meeting

By Carrie Vick, cvick@wkbt.com
Published On: Jan 24 2013 06:11:01 PM CST
Updated On: Jan 24 2013 07:38:54 PM CST
ONALASKA, Wis. -- -

The debate is on at Onalaska City Hall over whether to add a prayer to the beginning of Common Council meetings.

It was brought up last month and Mayor Joe Chilsen says he's open to having a discussion about it.

"I think that anytime we talk that we're being open about it open to the citizenry and open with one another and that's a positive thing," said Chilsen. 

It all started when Alderman Jack Pogreba stood up at Common Council last month during the citizen input time and offered up a prayer.

He also suggested the council consider adding it to the beginning of each meeting.

It leaves council members with the challenging task of deciding how to move forward without offending anyone or facing a legal battle.

Chilsen says his main concern is protecting the taxpayers from any unnecessary legal fees that could come from praying.

"There's lots of different ways to do this to accomplish it so we're not in violation of any laws and that's my greatest concern, I don't want to be in violation of any laws," said Chilsen.

"The thing that we need to be concerned about is the legality part of it," said Alderman Dan Ferries.

Ferries also says it's important to be considerate of everyone's beliefs.

"You don't want to offend anybody. You don't want to force your beliefs on anybody but I think as a whole and again this is just my belief, that Onalaska is a pretty faith-based community with the amount of churches and sizes of the churches," said Ferries.

While praying is new for the Onalaska Common Council, it's old practice in the city of La Crosse.

"A letter goes out to the members of the clergy, the registered clergy, and I believe other organizations too that choose to provide some calm to set the tone for the council meeting," said La Crosse City Council President Audrey Kader.

While it works in La Crosse, Kader says Onalaska's success relies on how they move forward with the idea.

"Hopefully I they realize what could come down the road for them because it depends on how they choose to deal with it," said Kader. "We want to be fair to people. This is a community made up of many religions backgrounds and people with no faith and the important thing is we run the city in a way that people are heard."

Pogreba says he's open to making time for any organized religion to say a prayer at the beginning of the meetings.   

Chilsen says the idea will be put on the administrative and judiciary committee's agenda for next month's meeting.

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