City leaders’ attempts to avoid violating the First Amendment have been met with criticism from members of the Bishop Ministerial Association.
Pastors Kelly Larson and Rick Klug told the City Council Monday night that invocation guidelines approved July 24 basically amount to censoring the prayers they would deliver at the start of council meetings.
“I’m disappointed rather than angry about the lack of fortitude in defense of the First Amendment,” Larson said, adding that he would no longer conduct invocations at the Bishop City Council meetings, because he would not “filter” his address to his god.
“Those who open should be able to pray the way we pray,” Klug said. “We should be able to close in the name of the god we pray to.”
City Attorney Peter Tracy, who drafted the new guidelines using information he gathered from other counties and cities, said the change was nothing more than an effort to protect the city from litigation for violating separation of church and state laws.
“Just because I ended up where I did doesn’t mean I have to like it,” Tracy said.
The new guidelines prohibit individuals conducting the invocation from quoting specific scriptures, or naming specific deities, to ensure that it does not appear the city is endorsing any one religion.
Two weeks after approving the guidelines, Hindu Statesman Rajan Zed delivered the first Hindu invocation in the city’s history, reading from his scripture.
This also did not sit well with Larson.
“Two weeks ago was an historical event, but not a good historical event,” Larson said, pointing out to the council that reading from scripture is against the city’s newly adopted invocation guidelines.
“Ministers who live in Bishop are the ones who are being restricted,” Larson continued. He asked the council to consider having guidelines in place that would “allow anyone, even if they’re not from Bishop, and not Christian,” to provide the invocation freely and in accordance with their individual religion.
Doug Talmage, who does not live within the city limits, said local leaders should issue more press releases regarding the invocation guidelines, and be more open about the changes that are coming.
Talmage also said that local media outlets made it appear the city was endorsing Zed’s religion when he provided the invocation in early August.
Councilmember Laura Smith asked if the city could revisit its invocation guidelines at a later date and allow residents to comment on the change.
Mayor David Stottlemyre said staff would consult with Tracy and possibly agendize a meeting on the invocation at a later date.