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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Tampa council invocation and rebuke ruffles feathers



It's a long-standing tradition in Tampa -- Council members invite guests to give the invocation before meetings. And it's also somewhat of a tradition that if speakers inject too much actual religion into the invocation that Council member Linda Saul-Sena remarks from the dais that that's not appropriate. She did just that at a Sept. 10 meeting when the prayer ended with a request that the council be blessed in the "name of Jesus Christ." She delivered her usual suggestion that future speakers consult a brochure on how best to give a public prayer in a diverse society. 

That was the last straw for Jim Crew, an employee in the City Clerk's office who serves as recording secretary for the council. In a two-page letter to council members, he said he's tired of seeing people invited to deliver the prayer "publicly chided and humiliated." Crew wrote that freedom of speech and religious expression means its "totally appropriate" for a Christian, Jewish, Muslim or Buddhist religious leader to offer a prayer reflecting their religion. "I respectfully request that the practice of publicly admonishing speakers not to offer generic invocations be discontinued," he said.

The letter never mentioned Saul-Sena, but she said she understood the missive was directed at her. She said her admonishments are never rude, and are based on the separation of church and state doctrine. And she said she will continue to remind speakers to keep religion out of the Council chambers, adding: "It will depend on how egregious the comments are."

Janet Zink, Times Staff Writer 

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 12:11pm]


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