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It has been tradition to begin Santee City Council meetings with a nonsectarian invocation since the founding of the city, and Mayor Randy Voepel likes it that way.
"I personally appreciate having an invocation by anyone, as almost all invocations from all the faiths are 95 percent alike," Voepel said. "They usually ask for goodwill, caring, looking after the city, hoping for smart leaders, etc."
Voepel said he's had trouble persuading an atheist to give the invocation.
"I have tried to get an Atheist to do an invocation, even if they say there is no Deity of any kind, but they won't," he said.
It's unclear if Voepel has asked Jeff Archer, president of the San Diego Atheist Coalition, to give the invocation, but it's unlikely he'd take the Mayor up on his offer.
"I don't understand the point and I don't think they should have them at all," said Archer in an interview with Santee Patch for an article published in 2010. "Does it make members of the council feel better? Does it give them better judgment? The answer is no. The practice is unbelievable."
"I've lived in three countries and there was none of this stuff going on," he said. "You don't have invocations at the beginning of a baseball game or before singing the National Anthem. It befuddles me, and I question its legality."
The Mayor said about 60 percent of invocations are Christian oriented and 40 percent are a broad cross section of faiths, including Wicca and Falun Gong.
"We ask that because of court precedence a Christian Pastor not end with 'In Jesus Christ's Name,'" said Voepel. "No other faiths have a restriction."
Mayor Voepel believes the invocation can be just about anything but must be "tasteful and unprovocative."
Santee City Attorney Shawn Hagerty, however, says the legal issue is clear.
"Legislative invocation is part of the governance structure of the United States and has always been," Hagerty said. "The Supreme Court has said they are perfectly appropriated and consistent with the Constitution."
Voeoel brought up the issue of the separation of church and state in a previous article.
"I personally am a practicing Christian who believes in separation of church and state. Some day, we Christians may be in the minority and need those very protections," said Voepel.
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