County Board August invocation leader spurs criticism
When the 19 St. Croix County supervisors gather each month for their regular board meeting, the business begins with a prayer or a moment of silence.
These invocations are led by different clergy people each time, coordinated by the county clerk.
At Tuesday's meeting, Mustapha Hammida of the Islamic Society of Woodbury will lead the invocation.
County Administrator Patrick Thompson said Hammida's presence came after a county staff member suggested the county be more inclusive with the clergy who leads the invocation. Thompson then reached out to the Islamic Society.
"We're looking at trying to be all inclusive with all faiths for, and not just limited to a certain select group of clergy," Thompson said. "As long as the county board wants to continue to have invocations or a moment of silence prior to meetings we'll try to be a bit more inclusive in the selection of the clergy."
Hammida's leading of the invocation led to criticism in an email sent to all supervisors signed by Randall Neubauer of Plymouth, Minnesota.
In the email, Neubauer spoke against Hammida's presence for the invocation, saying it was unacceptable to open the meeting with Islamic "illegal law." He also incorrectly said that these meetings never open with a prayer.
"I will be at this meeting to disrupt it," Neubauer said in the email.
At the federal level, congress meetings open with prayer. In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway upheld that opening prayers at the city level may include sectarian content according to the country's tradition as long as the body maintains a policy of nondiscrimination and it does not coerce participation.
Sheriff Scott Knudson was not aware of the email at the time of contact with the Star-Observer. Knudson said he will be at the board meeting as he usually is. An additional deputy will be present for the scheduled discussion on a proposed referendum to assess public opinion on legalizing marijuana.
"We anticipate that the cannabis referendum agenda item will draw quite a few people and probably some very impassioned views," Knudson said.
Thompson said the invocation and moment of silence is meant to be a moment of reflection ahead of the public discussion.
"I think it's a moment for the board to put aside differences, set them aside for a brief moment, and come together as one body to reflect," Thompson said.