DuPage County Board Republicans hope to put to rest the issue of prayer before board meetings with a vote later this month.
The on again-off again debate over the invocations given at county board meetings came to a head Tuesday after Republican members criticized fellow board member Dawn DeSart, one of six newly elected Democrats, for a blog post she distributed Tuesday questioning the tradition.
A copy of DeSart’s blog post was left at each board member’s seat before the start of Tuesday’s meeting, where an atheist delivered a moment of reflection for the board. In it, she suggests the practice should end because the primarily Christian prayers offered before board meetings are not inclusive.
“We’ve got a 5,000-pound elephant in the room so why wait until 2020,” Commissioner Sam Tornatore, a Republican from Roselle, said. “I say let’s discuss the invocation issue now, let’s take the pulse of the county board.”
Tornatore suggested the issue be placed on the March 26 agenda for a vote by the county board.
DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin said he hoped a vote would allow the county to move past the debate and focus on other issues.
“This is an issue that has been identified very particularly and dramatically today, and I think it makes perfect sense that we address it and dispose of it one way or another sooner rather than later,” he said.
DeSart, who is a Christian, first broached the topic in December when she suggested an end to the practice. However, she has said she would not push for a vote, believing the current board, which is controlled by a Republican majority, would not vote in her favor.
“It’s obvious the invocation is going to continue for at least two more years,” DeSart, an Aurora Democrat, said after Tuesday’s meeting. “If things change in 2020, we can take the vote again.”
Commissioner Sadia Covert, a Naperville Democrat representing the same district as DeSart, also questioned ending the traditional invocation since it provided a platform for diversity. She noted the invocation has been given by people of various faiths and backgrounds.
“I appreciate the invocations on the county board,” Covert said. “I believe that’s a platform for unity and getting to know one another.”
Several board members criticized the DeSart’s action, saying it was politically motivated. They also pointed to February tweet posted by DeSart stating, “They are ugly, mean, hypocritical bullies with crocodile smiles. Is it futile? I have to believe in 2020. #BuildABetterDuPage #BluPage.”
DeSart said the tweet was not about her fellow board members but President Donald Trump. Commissioner Elizabeth Chaplin, a Democrat from Downers Grove, also supported DeSart’s blog, saying she was entitled to her opinion.
Other board members, however, noted the blog appeared on a web page that is supported DeSart’s campaign and that the hashtags used with the tweet reference DuPage County.
“I have never harassed a colleague in that fashion,” said Commissioner Robert Larson, a Republican from Wheaton. “I am deeply disappointed that we have to tolerate this sort of nonsense; this lowering of the engagement of this board. … We ought to be better.”
During a moment of reflection delivered by Hemant Mehta before Tuesday’s meeting, Mehta told board members they were the “higher power” they’ve been looking for.
“We ask that you use your time to deliberate and debate, not pray and prostrate,” Mehta said. Board members should not spend time on things that divides, he said.
Alicia Fabbre is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.