In Longview, Washington, the City Council will no longer have invocations in which the name of Jesus Christ is used. Longview Mayor Don Jensen said that if the Council persisted in using the name of Jesus, they could be hit with a lawsuit. Jensen explained, “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.”
The city’s fear of a lawsuit stemmed from Longview resident Dan L. Smith, 69, a self-proclaimed “very comfortable atheist,” who filed a complaint. Smith has been complaining for years in emails to council members, and said he wasn’t looking to file a lawsuit, though confidently asserting he “would undoubtedly win” based on prior court decisions. A March 2012 email from Smith stated:
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.
President Mark Schmutz, pastor of Northlake Baptist Church, acknowledged that he was sad and disappointed: “If they can’t speak the name Jesus Christ, association ministers will no longer provide the invocation. They’re asking us not to do what we’re (called) to do. 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.”
Longview City Council meetings have had Christian invocations for over 50 years. Longview City Attorney James McNamara said the U.S. Supreme Court permits invocations, but there is a disagreement among different courts as to what language is acceptable: “The more unclear answer is whether the prayer can invoke the name of Jesus Christ.”
Smith has no objection to private prayer, but he objects to a designated prayer time at a public building. He said, “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.”.,091/19
But Mayor Jensen disagreed: “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.”