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Arizona City Council Votes to Include Prayer Before Gov't Meetings — but an Attorney Has a Major Warning


"The first prayer in Congress ended by saying thy son, our savior, based on the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior Amen."

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An Arizona city council is weighing whether to change its regulations to allow only Christian prayer before local government meetings — a move that a city attorney and mayor warned could spark a litany of lawsuits.

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The city council in Coolidge, Arizona, voted on Monday night to amend its regulations to permit only Christian invocations, with members voting 4-2 in favor of the change, the Associated Press reported.

The proposed amendment came from councilman Robert Hudelson, who said that the U.S. is a Christian nation and that prayers should reflect that historical fact and sentiment.

"That's our heritage, we should not be ashamed of it, nor should we be pushed into a corner because [of] Supreme Court decisions," Hudelson said, according to KSAZ-TV. "The first prayer in Congress ended by saying thy son, our savior, based on the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior Amen."

But two others — council member Gilbert Lopez and Mayor Jon Thompson  — opposed the measure, with Thompson citing legal concerns.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona has also spoken out against the proposal, claiming that it sends a poor message to people of minority faiths who live in Coolidge.

"We are of the opinion it would violate the Constitution and send a really bad message to folks that live in the town of Coolidge that, if they're not Christian, then they are excluded from participating in government affairs," Victoria Lopez, the group's legal director, told the Associated Press. "This is a striking take on this issue, one that you think we wouldn't see in 2015."

Despite warnings, though, the majority of the council voted in favor of exclusively Christian prayer, amending a proposal that originally called for members of any faith to be invited to offer invocations, according to the Coolidge Examiner.

City Attorney Denis Fitzgibbons, who warned that exclusively Christian prayers could be problematic, will draft a proposal that takes the council's wishes into account, and bring it back for their consideration.

Read more about the controversy here.

Prayer at public meetings continues to be a contentious subject, with the Supreme Court ruling in the landmark 2014 Greece vs. Galloway case that opening invocations do not violate the U.S. Constitution — even if invocations sometimes stress Christianity.

The 5-4 decision in Greece vs. Galloway offered a win to the town of Greece, New York, a suburb of Rochester that had been defending prayers routinely offered at its meetings. The landmark ruling fell in line with a 1983 decision that dealt with a similar scenario in the Nebraska legislature.

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The Supreme Court majority ruled that offering prayers is constitutional so long as government officials make an effort to be inclusive of all faiths, though CNN reported at the time that the ruling was specific to Greece and gave little guidance to other communities grappling with similar issues.

It is unclear what Coolidge officials will decide and how it will square with the Greece vs. Galloway decision.


Front page image via Shutterstock.com.

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