Longview, Wash., Mayor Don Jensen says men and women of faith who are asked to open the city council meetings with prayer may no longer invoke the name of Jesus Christ.
"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," he said, following consultations with the city attorney who advised of the potential for lawsuits for invoking Jesus Christ at the meeting, The Associated Press reports.
The backlash from churches was immediate.
"They're asking us not to do what we're [called] to do," said Mark Schmutz, pastor of Northlake Baptist Church and the president of Kelso-Longview Ministerial Association, in the AP reports. Mr. Schmutz said association ministers would no longer provide the opening prayer at the city's meetings.
"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," he said, to AP.
The Longview City Council has opened with Christian-based prayer since the 1950s, AP reports. Recently, Longview resident Dan Smith, 69, filed a complaint and threatened court action over the invocation of Jesus Christ, AP said. Mr. Smith, AP reports, describes himself as a "very comfortable atheist" who's put up with the public prayer for years.
The city's attorney said that while the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of public bodies allowing prayer at meetings, the law is less clear on the invocation of Jesus Christ, AP reports. Some argue that's a violation of the First Amendment and constitutes a government sponsorship of one religion over another.
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