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Newcastle council, Weston commissioners eliminate prayers

NEWCASTLE (WNE) — To kick off 2019, both the Newcastle City Council and Weston County commissioners eliminated the invocation, or prayer, before meetings.

Traditionally, both boards started every meeting with an invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance. Since the beginning of the year, both groups have discontinued the prayer that was said by one of their members, citing different reasons.

“I think it has been going on as long as I’ve been town attorney — so over 30 years,” City Attorney Jim Peck said. “The only invocations I paid attention to were those said by George Butler. He used to say Native American prayers, Buddhist prayers and other invocations that were short prayers from all over the world. They were always interesting.”

According to Peck and Mayor Deb Piana, the city discontinued the invocation before the meeting to comply with the separation of church and state. Weston County Commission Chairman Tony Barton said that the county discontinued the practice because several commissioners believed the invocation was an outdated tradition that should no longer be continued.

“The long and short of it is, if you check in bigger cities like Casper, you will see there has been some big issues down there,” Peck said. “The legal position is that you should discontinue the invocation, and the reason is there have been some lawsuits filed about separation of church and state.”

He noted that it is one of those areas that you can’t foresee being sued, and while it probably wouldn’t happen in Newcastle, the council decided to not take that risk.

Piana said that it is “kind of a freedom-of-religion-type thing” and that it really comes down to the separation of church and state for her.