A Christian invocation has started Longview, Washington, City Council meetings since the 1950s, but that tradition has come to an end.
According to TDN.com, Longview Mayor Don Jensen told the Kelso-Longview Ministerial Association last month that prayers mentioning Jesus Christ in invocations for City Council meetings were not acceptable because they could expose the city to a lawsuit.
"It's not my choice to stop this, but I don't know how we can put our citizens at jeopardy and cost our city and our citizens a lot of money," said Jensen, who added that he liked the prayer. "I just think it sets a tone for the meeting that we'll be more friendly. I guess I really can't explain it, but it just seems right to me."
"They're asking us not to do what we're (called) to do," said President Mark Schmutz, Pastor of Northlake Baptist Church. "This is the one and only true God, and so we're not trying to be against anybody, we're just being clear about what we're for."
The invocation complaint was filed by Longview resident Dan L. Smith, who calls himself a "very comfortable atheist."
Smith has emailed council members for years, saying that people of other faiths or no faith shouldn't have to endure a Christian prayer at a government meeting.
Smith wrote in a March of 2012 email:
All I am asking is that you remove ... the invocation from the council's agenda and that you sever any council ties with the (ministerial association's) responsibilities for the delivery of the invocation. I do fully realize that this may not be a popular thing for you to do, but as an elected public official it is the right thing to do.
Religion should not be a part of government. Who cares what (religion) anyone is. When they're there to conduct business of government and you have an invocation, then all of a sudden people start to look around to see who's standing and who's sitting.
Longview City Attorney James McNamara said the U.S. Supreme Court law has made it clear that invocations can be given at city council meetings.
"The more unclear answer is whether the prayer can invoke the name of Jesus Christ," McNamara said on Monday.