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Prayer before public meetings? Lake Worth changes policy

After a spirited — and sometimes contentious — 75-minute debate, a policy that allowed members of the public to offer a prayer before City Commission meetings was tweaked Tuesday, with commissioners now set to do the honors on a rotating basis.

The resolution to amend the commission’s rules and procedures passed 4-1, with Commissioner Christopher McVoy in opposition.

Commissioners have the option of selecting a representative if they don’t want to give the invocation. Or they could just lead a moment of silence.

The pre-meeting prayer became a hot-button issue when an invocation given at the Dec. 2 meeting by atheist Preston Smith mentioned Jesus, Allah, Satan and Thor. Smith ended the invocation by saying, “And so we prayed. So what?”

Four commissioners walked out, leaving McVoy as the only commissioner on the dais.

“I thought I was leaving not to be disrespectful,” Mayor Pam Triolo said by speaker phone during Tuesday’s meeting since she was ill at home. “I didn’t open my mouth.”

Triolo said she was more upset about a tweet allegedly posted by Smith a few days before the meeting that she considered inappropriate.

“That’s why I walked out,” Triolo said.

The discussion to amend the invocation policy was heated at times, with Vice Mayor Scott Maxwell and Commissioner Ryan Maier raising their voices.

“We’ve had this system in place and now we want to change it because a handful of people want to come in and mock everyone’s religion?” Maxwell said, hinting that only a select few are causing an issue.

Maier took exception to that comment, saying how the same thing was said about gay people who wanted the right to marry.

“Are you kidding me?” Maxwell shot back. “Don’t give me that. Invocations are fine as long as we don’t disrespect anybody.”

McVoy said he had no problems with the public giving invocations as long as they’re respectful.

“It’s my responsibility to keep my damn mouth shut if I agree or don’t agree,” he said.

City Attorney Glen Torcivia said the city’s invocation policy the past year passed constitutional muster.

“What you’ve done in the past was not illegal,” he said.

Cities in Palm Beach County vary on their prayer policies, according to a Palm Beach Post survey in 2012, with some offering prayers, a moment of silence or nothing at all.

Paid By Scott Maxwell for Lake Worth Beach City Commission, District 1

P.O. Box 13   Lake Worth Beach, Florida 33460
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