Religious decision-making forbidden for Corvallis public officials

The Benton County Courthouse in Downtown Corvallis on July 26. Benton County extended an offer to Rachel McEnemy to become the next Benton County Administrator.
The Benton County Courthouse in Downtown Corvallis on July 26. Benton County extended an offer to Rachel McEnemy to become the next Benton County Administrator.
Jules Wood

In Corvallis, public officials are allowed to practice any religion, but it cannot interfere with decisions made for the city, according to Patrick Rollens, public information officer for the City of Corvallis.

Rollens said that if religion were to become intertwined with local government it would create a higher risk of religious exclusion.

City officials are allowed to practice and have their own beliefs or morals, but they just cannot be inserted into government services or decisions, nor can they force anyone to adhere to them, Rollens said.

Moreover, it is very important for residents of Corvallis to have “equal access to the full spectrum of city services regardless of personal beliefs,” Rollens said.

Briae Lewis, Ward 2 Councilor for the City of Corvallis, said there is nothing that prevents her or anyone in government from having their own beliefs and thoughts.

Lewis said that she was raised Catholic and attended private school her whole life, and recognizes there is “merit in having a faith,” and mentions that “it’s only when it is taken too far and pushed onto people,” where she finds it an issue.

“There’s nothing preventing us as elected officials from expressing our religious beliefs,” Lewis said. “What I believe happens is that those beliefs are set aside as well as other biases to ensure that whatever decision we are making is for the betterment of our constituents as a whole rather than to make us feel better about ourselves.”

On the topic of separation of church and state, Lewis said she is a firm believer due to how the federal government has seemingly been unsuccessful in keeping the two separate.

There is something set in writing that prevents any religion becoming intertwined with local government. The city charter establishes and defines powers of the city and within the Corvallis city charter in chapter two: section four, it acknowledges the presence of religion in government.

This section focuses on the city’s responsibility to provide equal protection, as well as treatment and representation without any discrimination. The importance of providing equal services to all without any other bias was mentioned by both Rollens and Lewis.

“Corvallis is a community that honors diversity and diverse interests and aspires to be free of prejudice, bigotry and hate,” it also states in section four.

Tracey Yee, Ward 8 City Councilor and council president, said that regarding chapter two: section four, “it would be a charter violation if a city councilor tried to introduce something of a religious nature.”

As for herself, Yee says that she is not religious and does not follow any organized religions in spirit but similar to Lewis, says her beliefs or others do not intertwine with their work.

“In the two years that I have been on the City Council, I have not had any experiences where either my beliefs or the beliefs of others impacted our work in any way. Religion has simply not been a topic that has come up during any of the Council business or agenda items,” Yee said.

Visit the Corvallis City Charter for more information on the separation between church and state in Corvallis.

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  • H

    Heather HallDec 10, 2023 at 10:06 am

    This article presents a really ridiculous viewpoint. Separation of religion and state doesn’t mean that a person of faith cannot and should not bring their faith-based values to their job in governing. It means the opposite – that they should and must. It is a myth that government policy can be values neutral. Artificially keeping religious values out of the government arena merely means that secular, irreligious, anti-religious values will dominate government and there will be discrimination against people of faith. Such discrimination is sadly common in America today. An example is the transgender ideology that is shoved down the throats of kids in many public-school systems. Transgenderism a wholly secular philosophy deeply at odds with the values of religious parents. Thankfully there is starting to be a backlash in national politics which will restore freedom of religious practice to its proper place in the civic arena.

  • N

    Name (Required)Dec 10, 2023 at 1:19 am

    The City Official’s arguments presented in this article are aligned with basic reason, sustainability and continued functionality. Not being particularly familiar with Corvallis, I am confused as to why these basic notions which protect and sustain a city in basic principal, would have to be presented as an argument in the first place.

    The article doesn’t seem to readily provide context. Could a financially-non-contributing organization – one which could not exist if not for the city, its land, and the tax paying residents which reside there… Surely an organization such as this would not have the audacity to presume it reserves the right to such power and influence.

    If the arguments made by city officials were made in response to a call-to-action regarding the Palestinian Israeli conflict, I would still fail to understand how religion would factor into decision making.

    Ethnicity isn’t black and white, nor should it be represented as such. Judaism isn’t nullified when one doesn’t align with Israel. The atrocities happening in Gaza are happening to people, not religions – but because of religion, the atrocities are happening.

    Ironically, religion plays a further role in the devastation by controlling the narrative, limiting public opinion options to either be a.) pro oppression/anti-carnage or b.) anti oppression/pro carnage. I wonder how this narrative is able to sustain itself. Could it be that religion found its way into government at some point?