Don Jensen, the mayor of Longview, Wash., told the Kelso-Longview Ministerial Association that prayers mentioning Christ were not acceptable because they could expose the city to a lawsuit.
The decision has sparked controversy in the city – located about 50 miles north of Portland, Ore.
Mark Schmutz, who pastors the Northlake Baptist Church, said if they can’t speak the name Jesus Christ, association ministers will no longer provide the invocation.
“We need to be able to speak Jesus’ name,” he told The Daily News. “They’re asking us not to do what we’re called to do. This is the one and only true God. We’re not trying to be against anybody – we’re just being clear about what we’re for.
Local ministers have been leading City Council invocations for more than 50 years – and until recently there had never been any complaints.
That changed when resident Dan Smith started raising concerns about the constitutionality of prayers that include the name of Christ and whether it was appropriate for the ministerial association to be responsible for the prayers.
“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,” he wrote in a letter to council members.
Smith describes himself as a “comfortable atheist” – and called the longtime prayers an embarrassment. He hinted that unless the prayers were dropped it might lead to a lawsuit.
The city’s attorney said invocations are certainly permitted under the Constitution but what is unclear is whether the prayers can invoke the name of Jesus Christ.
Mayor Jensen told the newspaper he regretted having to issue the edict.
“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.
Jensen said the invocations set the right tone for their meetings and said it encouraged residents to be “more friendly.”