LEAGUE CITY — With a room full of residents and council members, League City’s council meeting began as it has for years.
League City Mayor Tim Paulissen asked for those in the room to silence their cellphones and then introduced Pastor Dave Schroeder of Lakeside Lutheran Church
“Almighty God, bless this meeting with your divine presence and guidance,” Schroeder prayed.
Those in the audience listened silently with bowed heads and answered with “amen” when Schroeder finished the invocation. The scene is not rare for council meeting in the area, but a Wisconsin-based nonprofit had hoped it would not happen.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to Paulissen last week asking that League City stop the practice of having a prayer before city council meeting because the practice is “coercive and beyond the authority of any government.”
After the prayer Tuesday night, the meeting quickly moved on to topics such as residents’ concerns over development, arguments over committee appointments and budget discussions. But when given a chance, League City’s council members were eager to lash out at the Wisconsin group.
“The most important issue we’ll deal with tonight — which is not even on the agenda — is defending our right to pray,” said Councilman Todd Kinsey.
Speaking directly to the foundation members who might have been watching, Kinsey said that if the prayer offended them, they could not watch.
“We have a constitutional right to pray, just as you have a right not to,” Kinsey said. “I’m offended you don’t believe in God, but you don’t have to answer to me. You’ll have to answer to him when your time comes.”
Other council members also chimed in with support for the practice of prayer at the start of the meeting.
“That’s for all you folks in Wisconsin,” Councilwoman Geri Bentley said before crossing herself.
Councilman Andy Mann said he had received many emails in support of the prayer and asked that people keep sending them in. Councilwoman Heidi Thiess said she had just returned from a trip to Wisconsin and thanked the mayor for standing firm in the face of the group’s request.
“We don’t have to tangle with half-wits like that,” she said.
Elizabeth Cavell, a staff attorney for the foundation, said it was one of their League City members — the foundation has nearly 20,000 members nationwide and 900 in Texas — who brought the city’s practice to their attention. In the letter, Cavell asks the city to discontinue the practice and also pointed out that the U.S. Supreme will take up the issue of prayer at city council meetings when the case of Galloway v. Town of Greece reaches them next year.
Paulissen has said several times that the city council would continue to do as it has in the past.
“Until somebody — my council — decides they want to stop this or some higher authority tells me to stop this, I am going to continue the status quo,” Paulissen said.