Moment At County Meeting Becomes National News Story

What started as a seemingly routine meeting of the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners turned chaotic as members of The Satanic Temple of West Michigan delivered the invocation on Tuesday. The auditorium was packed with county residents, some of whom were there to protest the Satanic invocation, while others were there to support the temple’s free speech rights.

The controversy began last year when an LGBTQ activist pastor from Grand Haven sued the county for not being chosen to offer an invocation. In response to this lawsuit, Ottawa County changed its policy in January to allow pastors to address commissioners under specific procedures. This change was meant to establish the county as a “constitutional county” that protects individual rights. Pastor Jared Cramer, who was initially denied the opportunity to offer an invocation, was later allowed to speak at a meeting in February. Despite this, he continued with his lawsuit.

Tuesday’s invocation was seen as a test of the county’s commitment to free speech. Members of The Satanic Temple of West Michigan, including Bendr Bones, delivered the invocation. Some supported the temple’s right to free speech, while others opposed it. A man in the audience could be heard preaching, “Jesus be glorified in this place,” as others deemed the invocation “disrespectful.” The chaos in the auditorium was met with cookies being handed out by Commissioner Rebekah Curran, with the Bible verse John 3:16.

The invocation is the latest controversy to befall the Board of Commissioners, which is backed by Ottawa Impact, a political action committee led by Commission Chair Joe Moss. The PAC won the majority on the board in August 2020, leading to clashes with more progressive members of the community. These clashes include replacing the county’s health officer, changing the county motto, and closing its Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Department. Tuesday’s meeting continued this trend.

Commissioners Gretchen Cosby and Kendra Wenzel prayed to themselves throughout the invocation, while Commissioner Jacob Bonnema walked out in protest. Commissioner Roger Belknap held up a sign in opposition, while Commissioner Doug Zylstra shared his support for the invocation. Kendra Wenzel shared her experience as a pregnant teenager, stating that “life was very important to me.” This led to the approval of a resolution “to promote life” in a vote of 8-2.

A group of around 45 people, led by Rebekah Curran, read Bible verses during the public comment period of the meeting. The original version of the resolution would have prohibited county staff and resources from being used for an abortion, as well as transportation to abortion providers. However, after being amended, these restrictions were dropped. Despite this, some commissioners, such as Doug Zylstra and Roger Bergman, still voiced their opposition to the resolution.

The meeting ended with the passing of the resolution and continued debate among county residents. While the invocation may have sparked controversy, it also highlighted the importance of protecting free speech rights for all, regardless of personal beliefs.

This meeting serves as a reminder of the ongoing tensions within the county and the need for civil discourse in addressing these issues. As the community moves forward, it is clear that there will be continued discussions and debates surrounding the role of religion in the government.


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