Council backs off ‘Christians only’ invocation policy

After the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a warning letter, the Coolidge City Council, Ariz., has decided not to limit invocations to only Christians after all.

News reports indicate that the council “hastily” called a meeting yesterday to reverse its decision to let only Christian groups give invocations at meetings.

The council had voted 4-2 to exclude non-Christians on Sept. 14. One council member said he would refuse to listen to any non-Christian prayers.

Under a recent Supreme Court decision, Greece v. Galloway, invocations remain permissible at government meetings only if they are open to all, FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel pointed out in his letter to the council. “The Supreme Court’s decision would have been different had the town used the prayer as an opportunity to discriminate against minority religions.”

Councilor Robert Hudelson authored the Christians-only resolution, and spoke out before the vote on Monday. “History will look back on us and say, ‘There is a city council who stood for Christ and Christ alone,'” he said. “For that, we should never be ashamed.”

Seidel responded to this statement in a blog post: “Yes, Mr. Hudelson, you should be ashamed. You attempted to abuse your government office to further your personal religion . . . [W]hile you occupy a public office you have a duty to keep state and church separate, not unite them to further your personal mythology. No American government ‘stands for Christ.’ American governments stand for the American people.”

“We’re very pleased with the inclusive action the council has taken. The Freedom From Religion Foundation believes religion – and irreligion — in government is divisive. But so long as city councils unwisely decide to schedule prayer to open meetings, they are obligated to allow nonreligious citizens to open meetings as well,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president.

FFRF is a national state/church watchdog with more than 23,000 members, including more than 550 in Arizona.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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