Tacoma, Pierce County officials divided over prayer breakfast speaker

Staff writerApril 30, 2014 

Tacoma and Pierce County officials are divided over whether to attend the annual Pierce County Prayer Breakfast on Friday because a controversial conservative judge from Alabama is the speaker.

Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland won’t go and give her usual greeting. Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy will attend and give a welcome to the expected crowd of 1,400 people at the Tacoma Dome Exhibition Hall.

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore is a divisive figure because he wants to ban same-sex marriage. He also defied a federal judge’s order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from a state building.

Strickland said Wednesday that neither she nor any of the eight other City Council members will attend the breakfast.

“His position on marriage equality is inconsistent with my values and inconsistent with our commitment as a city to be inclusive,” Strickland said.

Some council members are refusing to go, Strickland said. Others might be out of town or don’t usually attend the breakfast, she said.

Strickland says she normally spends $300 of her own money to reserve a table for 10 people, but didn’t this year because of the speaker.

No one will be giving greetings from the city of Tacoma, Strickland said.

Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy said she will give a greeting and make remarks as she does every year.

“They have provocative speakers from time to time,” McCarthy said Tuesday. “I don’t pass judgment … on whom they choose to have as speakers.”

McCarthy said she hadn’t decided whether she would comment on Moore in her remarks.

“This is a huge turnout of citizens from Pierce County that come together for prayer and reflection,” McCarthy said.

Moore also will speak at a dinner and fundraiser Friday night for the 28th District Republican Club at Oakbrook Golf & Country Club in Lakewood.

The prayer breakfast is sponsored by the Greater Tacoma Christian Laymen’s Outreach, whose 12-member board selects the speaker each year.

Keith Beasinger, the board’s president, said four people have voiced criticism to the group about Moore’s appearance because of his stance on same-sex marriage. One person backed out of buying a table at the breakfast.

Beasinger said he doesn’t expect Moore will be talking about his views on same-sex marriage. Moore has said he will speak on the “relationship of God to the Constitution.”

The board didn’t aim to create a controversy by choosing Moore and will try not to do so with future speakers, Beasinger said.

“I don’t regret that we picked him,” he said. “He’s a Christian who still believes the Bible is God’s inspired word.”

Beasinger linked the criticisms of Moore to a wider societal intolerance from the political left.

“It’s not fair that people who have other value systems or beliefs should bully everybody else who does not think like them,” Beasinger said.

Tacoma City Councilman Anders Ibsen wrote in online comments to a News Tribune story that the selection of Moore was “bad judgment” and “deeply, deeply regrettable.”

E. Duane Wilkerson, director of the Pierce County AIDS Foundation, said in a News Tribune letter to the editor Tuesday that government leaders should register their opposition to Moore’s views.

“It is my hope that the government leaders of Tacoma and Pierce County will publicly reject this messenger of hate and bigotry by either not attending or, if attending, by taking a moment of personal privilege to make it clear that this message is not one they agree with,” Wilkerson wrote.

Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647

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