Seattle mayor to hold State of City address at mosque

SEATTLE — Mayor Ed Murray will give his State of the City address at the Idris Mosque on Tuesday. It will be a special session of the City Council.

“If you look at the attacks from both the White House against Muslim Americans as well as hate crimes we felt it was important to stand with Seattle's Muslim community as we've stood on civil rights and African-American churches,” the mayor said in an interview

We asked what about the separation of church and state.

“We do this all the time in African-American churches, when we celebrate civil rights, or when we fight for civil rights,” Murray said.

The mayor’s staff says he routinely speaks at religious institutions. And the City Council has held meetings at religious facilities. But the State of the City Speech is usually given at City Hall and uniquely, it is required by the city charter.

We asked the city archivists to check the records. They found that Mayor Greg Nickels did give his State of the City speech at the Washington State Convention center in 2007, at the Pacific Science Center in 2008 and at the Rainier Vista Boys and Girls Club in 2009.

And going back five decades to 1964, they found there have been no State of City speeches at religious institutions of any kind.

So we asked a Seattle constitutional lawyer if a speech at a religious facility violates the separation of church and state. “No, It really doesn't,” Jeffery Needle replied. “The point for the Constitution, is that it's not attempting to favor one religion, it's not attempting to advance one religion. It hasn't got a religious purpose.”

But he says the mayor does need to be careful about religion.

“My first assumption is that there will be no prayer at the mosque and no one will be leading a prayer at the mosque at the time and the mayor is just going to give his official speech,” Needle said.

When the mayor referred to speeches at other churches, he may have been referring to his routine speeches not strictly the State of the City. We’ve asked his office for clarification.

The city’s archives reveal that there was no State of the City address in 1978. The mayor at the time, Charles Royer, explained that he forgot.