Preston Smith: Lake Worth elected leaders walk out of commission meeting as atheist leads invocation

LAKE WORTH, Fla. - Last Tuesday's Lake Worth city commission meeting started as they all do. Then things changed.

As atheist Preston Smith approached the podium to lead the prayer - Mayor Pam Triolo and three city commissioners left the chambers. 

More than 11,000  people have since seen the act on YouTube and it’s creating a buzz on forums and blogs.

The mayor offered no explanation until today.  

“I didn't leave because Mr. Smith is an atheist, I left because of his alleged tweet.” Mayor Triolo said.

Triolo says Smith tweeted an offensive interpretation of scripture earlier this summer.  She feared his prayer might be along those lines - so she left before he started. 

“Free speech works both ways,” Triolo said. “You can say what you want and I can choose to leave.”

Smith's prayer referenced several religious leaders, but centered on building a better community based on secular principles without religious division. 

One commissioner did stay during the invocation. Commissioner Christopher McVoy says he had no idea the other elected officials were going to be leaving, but it bothers him they did leave.

“If we choose to have an invocation, we have a responsibility to respectfully listen,” McVoy said.

McVoy says if there was an issue it should have been handled in advance. 

Walking out was “very un-American, and a slap in the face to the principles people fought very hard to make sure we had those rights,” he said.

McVoy says he hasn't seen the tweet which upset Mayor Triolo.  Smith wouldn't confirm if he authored the tweet in question.

"There's just a place where I personally draw a line, and I have to be who I am," Triolo explains.

The three other commissioners couldn't be reached or didn't comment on their reason to leave.

Smith said over the phone that he thinks it was an act of pure discrimination against his beliefs.

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