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  • Writer's pictureJared Cramer

What led up to Satanic Temple offering invocation at Ottawa County board meeting

Below is a news article published today by Wood TV 8 that includes comments from our rector.

OLIVE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A representative from the Satanic Temple of West Michigan plans to give the invocation at the beginning of Tuesday evening’s Ottawa County Board of Commissioners meeting.

At least one commissioner is not happy about it.

“I, and other commissioners, voted against Joe Moss’ changes to the board rules last January. We knew changing the tradition from commissioner invite only to a simple sign-up sheet was ill-conceived,” Commissioner Jacob Bonnema, a Republican whose district includes the city of Zeeland and parts of Holland and Zeeland townships, told News 8.

He was referring to a policy Ottawa County Commission Board Chair Joe Moss announced that allows anyone to sign up to give the opening prayer at the board meetings. But it didn’t start there — it started a year ago, when commissioners approved a resolution making Ottawa County a so-called constitutional county. At the time, Moss and other conservative commissioners backed by his political action committee Ottawa Impact said the resolution was meant to protect individual rights from everything from red flag laws to pandemic mandates.

That decision grabbed Bendr Bones’ attention. He is a member of the Satanic Temple of West Michigan. Bones is not his real name — he and other members use pseudonyms to protect their identities. The name of his group is also misleading, since members do not worship Satan or even believe in him, but rather are atheists.

“We appreciate the figure of Satan and Lucifer as a kind of a mythological icon that represents rebellion against arbitrary authority,” Bones explained. “One of our primary pursuits is to actually try to benefit our community and to run charity drives, and different community-oriented services that help us reach out to other people and provide our services to them.”

When he heard about the constitutional county designation, he wanted to put it to the test, since the Constitution also protects freedom of speech and freedom of religion. He filed a petition for the commissioners to allow him to give the invocation, then decided to back off after someone else filed a lawsuit against the county over the same issue.

Rev. Dr. Jared Cramer is with St. John’s Episcopal Church, a progressive church in Grand Haven that is LGBTQ+ friendly and has a transgender safe space.

“(The commissioners) instituted a constitutional county because of their beliefs about what the Second Amendment of the Constitution indicates, which, of course, is just one of the amendments of the Constitution. I don’t think they had anticipated the way that the other parts of the Constitution, like freedom of speech and freedom of religion, would come to bear on the way they’re doing their governance of Ottawa County right now,” Cramer said.

He said he emailed commissioners several times asking to give the invocation. When he didn’t hear back, he said, he also sent each commissioner a physical letter but still received no reply. In October, he filed a federal lawsuit to try to force them to allow him to give the invocation and not limit the prayer only to denominations of which they approved. Once the lawsuit was filed, Cramer said, the board not only reached out to have him give the invocation, but also instituted the new policy allowing organizations to sign up to give the opening prayer.

Cramer still hasn’t dropped his lawsuit. He wants a settlement or injunction guaranteeing commissioners will keep the policy in place.

“I think it’s super important for Christians to be known as people of love. What Jesus said is the way people would know we follow Jesus is by the love we have for people. And that’s the love not just for those we agree with, but love for those we might think of as our enemies. Jesus told us really clearly, that love your enemies, that’s what we’re called to do,” Cramer said.

Though Cramer doesn’t think there should be any invocation before a government meeting, he believes if they’re going to happen, they should represent all of their constituents, not just a select group.

Members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation feel the same way, which is why they sent a letter to commissioners urging them not to revoke permission for The Satanic Temple leader to speak at the meeting.

“I think what most people want their county commissioners to do is to act as a government and not get involved into these controversial religious disputes,” Patrick Elliott, director of legal counsel for the foundation, said. “And so we think the best way to resolve it is to drop the invocation or drop the prayer. If they’re not going to do that, there may be some prayers that someone the board don’t like and that’s OK. They’re going to have to tolerate that.”

As for what people who attend the meeting can expect from a Satanic Temple opening prayer, Bendr Bones said the temple doesn’t have any nefarious plans. “Our invocation is mostly just a call to act with benevolence and empathy, to basically come together and make decisions that benefit all and to dispel superstition and supernatural ideas that might block us from making decisions that truly benefit the most people,” he said.

Commissioner Bonnema isn’t convinced. “I would like to see the commission return to its long-standing tradition of commissioners doing the invocation themselves,” he told News 8. “After all, the invocation is meant to be for the benefit of the commissioners. I would like to know which commissioners would be willing to go on record to say that they benefitted from the Satanic Temple’s prayers.”

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