LAKE WORTH, Fla. – Lake Worth is becoming the battleground in the fight for separation of church and state.
The focus on the city comes after the mayor and three commissioners left their December 2 meeting as an atheist began the invocation, or prayer, to open the meeting.
Longtime Lake Worth resident Wes Blackman recorded the event and posted it to YouTube and to his blog.
Since he started the blog in 2006, Blackman has never seen one of his videos get so much attention.
“They did give him a chance, and because they gave him a chance, 200,000 people have seen his invocation,” Blackman said.
The video shows four elected Lake Worth leaders leave the room as atheist Preston Smith prepares to lead the invocation.
Mayor Pam Triolo said her reason for leaving has nothing to do with atheism .
Commissioners Scott Maxwell, John Szerdi and Andy Amoroso won’t explain their reasoning. Late Thursday, Commissioner John Szerdi offered this statement:
“My reason for leaving the chambers was based on my determination that I preferred to not have this person saying a prayer on my behalf. As much as he had a right to say what he said, I had a right to not listen. In the future, I believe we should set aside “a moment of silent prayer” so everyone can reflect on their own without offending anyone.”
Commissioner District 4
According to emails from the city clerk, Smith put in his request to speak this summer, hinting he would sue if not allowed. He told us over the phone his goal is to get local governments to stop praying before public meetings.
Now, another man has put in a request to stand at the podium and lead an invocation. This time with a satanic prayer.
“We want to make a circus out of it,” explained Chaz Stevens. “We want to make a fiasco out of it, we want to make it so freaking, utterly ridiculous that they rethink this.”
Stevens said he’ll make his invocation over the top, proving a moment of silence is a better option than a prayer at public governmental meetings.
“I don’t want these guys to pray. I want these guys to study, I want these guys to do their homework,” said Stevens, who is an atheist, but chose to do a satanic prayer to get more attention.
He lives in Deerfield Beach, but calls Lake Worth the “battleground.” He said the city of Deerfield Beach continues to put off his request for a satanic prayer in from of that city council.
Blackman has watched as people around the world chime in on his city. The mayor shut down her public Facebook page as comments mounted.
“To have this as a distraction, I think is really too bad,” said Blackman pointing out this debate takes away from the positive things happening in Lake Worth.
“It’s one of the unintended consequences of having a more open government and living in a digital age.”
Smith said he chose to lead an invocation in Lake Worth because it’s closest to where he lives. He also put in a request to lead the invocation at a Palm Beach County commissioners meeting, but was told only county commissioners lead the invocation at those meetings.