City: Longview's prayer solution consistent with Supreme Court ruling

LONGVIEW, Wash. -- A U.S. Supreme Court decision Monday said prayers at city council meetings do not violate the Constitution, even if they routinely stress Christianity, as long as officials make a good-faith effort at inclusion.

The ruling is a victory for the town of Greece, New York, just outside Rochester, but the city of Longview grappled with a similar question in March 2013 when a couple residents brought concerns to Longview City Attorney Jim McNamara.

"By having the name of Jesus, clearly referencing Christian faith, it might exclude those that are non-Christian or atheist and didn't believe in any religion," McNamara said while explaining the concerns. He took those concerns to Mayor Don Jensen, who approached the Christian-based association in charge of scheduling and leading the prayers before meetings.

"At that time, it was merely a request to be sensitive to concerns of the community," McNamara said.

The president of the association at the time said it was sterner than that.

"They were saying you can continue praying but not to say the name of Jesus Christ any longer or not even say the pronoun, He," said Pastor Mark Schmutz at Northlake Baptist Church. "It was very clear."

Schmutz and the rest of the association decided not to lead prayers if they were going to be censored.

A month later, the Longview City Council passed a resolution that the city would not try to dictate what could or couldn't be said in the prayers, but made it clear that any group is allowed to lead them.

"As long as we're not praying to try to convert somebody or disparaging any other religions, then we're free to speak to Jesus Christ or whomever," said Pastor Schmutz. "I think it was an excellent solution. I'm so glad we didn't shove religion off into the margins. That's what we seem to always do."

"We're happy to see the result with the U.S Supreme Court (Monday)," McNamara said. "It's consistent with what we're doing in the city of Longview ever since we adopted the resolution (in March 2013)."