The Coolidge (Ariz.) City Council, during a hastily called meeting Sept. 21, voted unanimously to back away from a proposal to allow only Christians to pray before council meetings, the Arizona Republic reported.
Robert Hudelson, the council member (also a Baptist minister) who sponsored the resolution to limit prayer to Christians, spoke before he voted against his own proposal:
“History will look back on us and say, ‘There is a city council who stood for Christ and Christ alone.’ For that, we should never be ashamed.”
The council then unanimously voted to let representatives of any religious group within the city limits offer a prayer before meetings. “Now we have a legally defensible position, and everyone will have a seat at the table,” claimed Mayor Jon Thompson.
After learning that the council had voted 4-2 on Sept. 14 in favor of the Christian-only policy, FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a complaint letter Sept. 17 to Thompson: “If the council insists on continuing to host prayers at public meetings, it must not discriminate against any person wishing to give a prayer.”
The letter pointed out that last year the U.S. Supreme Court in Town of Greece v. Galloway upheld prayers at city council meetings on the understanding that the town “at no point excluded or denied an opportunity to a would-be prayer giver.” Seidel wrote, “Members of minority religions and even the nonreligious and must be permitted to deliver invocations.”
During the Sept. 14 discussion, Councilman Gary Lewis said that if any non-Christian were to give a prayer, “I wouldn’t sit here and listen to it, I would walk away.”
Seidel chastised Lewis, noting that “this type of intolerance is not only despicable in a government official, but also patently unconstitutional when codified in city laws and policy.”
FFRF’s letter said that ideally, the council would do away with prayers altogether. FFRF recently filed lawsuits against the Chino Valley School Board in California and Brevard County in Florida for their invocation practices.