“… In the name of a genderless, generic deity, amen.”
Prayers said before City Council meetings will now be rotated just among council members and must remain nonsectarian, the council decided Tuesday in a 4-1 vote, with Councilman Derek Reeve opposed..
“I’m a Christian. I believe in Jesus Christ,” said Councilman John Taylor. “I don’t have a problem with someone saying his name. But other people might.”
Reeve raised the issue on what should and shouldn't be said during an invocation after a guest he brought in to pray at the December meeting was criticized by other council members for mentioning the “Son.”
Typically, council members take turns giving the invocation. But Reeve said he wanted to give his turn to various members of the community of differing faiths, as a way to reach out after the council found itself caught up in recent controversies involving religion.
Reeve said he instructed resident Gary Stache, a leader in the , not to say the name Jesus or proselytize. But when Stache ended the prayer in the “name of the Son,” Councilman Sam Allevato became upset, leading to this week’s discussion.
Reeve prefers the idea of rotating people of different faiths to do the invocations, he said.
“All religions should be encouraged. They all have one thing in common, and that is faith, the faith that tomorrow will be a better day,” he said.
Reeve had forwarded a legal decision involving a prayer said before a council meeting in the city of Lancaster that ended “in the precious, holy and righteous and matchless name of Jesus.” In that case, a Jewish man and a Christian woman sued the high-desert city, but a federal district judge said they failed to prove the city violated the anti-establishment clause of the First Amendment.
However, Mayor Larry Kramer said, the U.S. Supreme Court said that very day it did not want to hear a similar case from North Carolina, where an appellate court came to the opposite conclusion.
City Attorney Omar Sandoval agreed, saying that by declining to hear the case, the justices indicated they too prefer nonsectarian prayers at public meetings and that sectarian prayers may be unconstitutional.
“I’ve been on a lot of boards. I go to a lot of meetings,” said Allevato. “It’s always kept nondenominational, and that’s what I’m comfortable with.”
He added that mentioning a deity could make some feel “disenfranchised.”
Resident Steve Behmerwohld urged the council to do away with invocation altogether.
“I think you do a good job. I don’t think you need divine intervention,” he said.
The council did vote to keep the prayers, but they must not call upon the name of any specific deity.
“We’re not a church here,” Kramer said. “We’re a public institution. We should act like one.”