Arizona town ignores its own attorney to push ban on non-Christian prayers before council meetings
A small city in Arizona has caught the attention of the state’s ACLU branch after the City Council voted to consider allowing only Christian prayer before council meetings, AZCentral reports.
On Monday, the City Council was to consider a resolution to allow all members of religious groups to pray before council meetings. But Councilman Rob Hudelson, a Baptist pastor, asked for a change to the resolution so that only Christian groups would be allowed to do so, which passed with a 4-2 vote.
Currently, there are no prayers before council meetings. In the past, the city cancelled them because of lack of interest from the religious community.
Councilman Gary Lewis told the Associated Press he would “walk away” if any prayer besides Christian prayer was said in his presence.
“Under my faith, I wouldn’t sit here and listen to it,” Lewis told the AP. “I would walk away.”
Some warned the resolution could get the city of about 12,000 residents into litigation it can’t afford. City Attorney Denis Fitzgibbons told the city it would face discrimination lawsuits. In response, Hudelson told him the city pays him “to avoid us getting into these problems.”
“As long as they all have a fair opportunity to come and give an invocation, then it’s going to be legal,” he advised.
But Hudelson insisted.
“That’s our heritage, we should not be ashamed of it, nor should we be pushed into a corner because Supreme Court decisions. The first prayer in Congress ended by saying thy son, our savior, based on the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior Amen,” Hudelson told local Fox10.
The Arizona ACLU has already sent a letter to the city saying it would violate the First Amendment to approve the rule.
“They are creating a policy that will advocate for a particular religion,” Arizona ACLU legal director Victoria Lopez told AZCentral. “There isn’t a legal question. It’s problematic on First Amendment grounds, certainly, and it seems like a really bad policy position to take.”
She said it would send a message to Coolidge residents who are not Christian that they are excluded from participating in their local government.
“This is a striking take on this issue, one that you think we wouldn’t see in 2015,” she told the AP.
The two councilmen opposed to the resolution noted they are Christian, but are certain it will get the city sued.
“I’m not willing to get the city of Coolidge sued over the invocations,” said Mayor Jon Thompson.
The Council will vote on the final resolution on September 28.