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Christian ministers have been opening the Longview City Council meetings with an invocation since the late 1950's.
This has been a city tradition since its founding. City founder, R.A. Long, delivered the invocation at the first city council meeting in 1924. In the late 1950's, the invocation became a regular part of the meetings.
Mayor Jensen told the public, "It's not my choice to stop this."
Pastor Mark Schmutz of Northlake Baptist Church and president of the local ministerial association expressed sadness and disappointment over the decision.
He said if the pastors can't speak the name of Jesus Christ, association ministers will no longer provide the invocation.
"They're asking us not to do what we're called to do," he said.
He explained that he and the pastors believe "there are other spiritual entities---such as demons and other gods cited in the Bible---the minister's prayers are specific about whom they call upon."
So what brought about this change?
A complaint was lodged by one man.
Dan L. Smith, who describes himself as a "very comfortable atheist," says, "people of other faiths or no faith shouldn't have to endure a Christian prayer at a government meeting."
In an email to the city he asked that they "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 an invocation."
He said he didn't want to sue the city, but if he did, he "would undoubtedly win."
He said of the 20 Washington cities he has researched, only 3 still begin their council meetings with a prayer---Longview, Kelso and Marysville.
This past Monday, Smith told the city he has been in frequent contact with the Americans United Against Church and State, headed by the Rev. Barry Lynn.
That was, apparently, a game changer.
Americans United (AU) joined President Obama this week in the effort to abolish the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
In their press release they said DOMA "should be struck down" because it is "an example of government promotion of religion."
Rev. Lynn says, "While some religious institutions may have a history of defining marriage as between a man and a woman, that tradition is separate from, and cannot be allowed to dictate civil law. The legal definition of civil marriage is not tied to particular religious traditions, but instead reflects changes in contemporary understandings of marriage."
Longview City Attorney James McNamara said the US Supreme Court law has made it clear that invocations can be given at city council meetings.
"The more unclear answer is whether the prayer can invoke the name of Jesus Christ."
Obviously when the city council became aware that Americans United, with their nearly unlimited financial resources, were in constant contact with Smith, they caved to the prospect of a lawsuit. Much like public schools respond every time AU or the ACLU challenges them.
The mayor announced this week that the city can not afford a lawsuit. The prayers have been silenced. There was no invocation at the last council meeting.
One man, demanding his right of freedom from religion, has silenced the prayers in the City of Longview city council meetings.
And it has happened as a result of an inverted application of Thomas Jefferson's explanation to the Danbury Baptists that there is a wall of protection between the church and the state which provides protection for the church and precludes the state from meddling in the affairs of the church.
Dr. A A Hodge, a Princeton professor (1823-1886), had deep concerns about the effect atheism could have on our public education system and our public expression of faith.
His lectures are studied and his statements often quoted.
He once said, "The absence of religious expression in the public discourse grants, by default, all power to the advocates of atheism, agnosticism, humanism and nihilism."
This is yet another default.
God help us.