Arizona town stipulates that council meetings begin with prayers—but only Christian ones!

September 16, 2015 • 12:00 pm

From The Coolidge Examiner of Coolidge, Arizona (population 11,825), we have a seriously blatant violation of the First Amendment:

Ignoring legal counsel and concerns about a possible lawsuit, a majority of the Coolidge City Council voted Monday to amend a resolution that would allow prayers before council meetings, including a stipulation that they be Christian.

Council members Steve Hudson, Rob Hudelson, Gary Lewis and Tatiana Murrieta all voted in favor of the Christian-only stipulation to the resolution, which was originally written to include ministers from any faith represented within the city limits. Mayor Jon Thompson and Councilman Gilbert Lopez voted against the amended resolution, with Vice Mayor Jacque Henry absent.

There’s a 30-day review period, and then this becomes the town law. These people better think twice about passing the amendment, though, lest they saddle their small town with enormous legal bills brought by an FFRF or ACLU lawsuit:

Should the resolution become final with the Christian-only stipulation, there is a very real possibility of the city being taken to court. Fitzgibbons referenced the 2014 Supreme Court case Town of Greece v. Galloway, which allowed for prayers at council meetings as long as the prayer did not disparage some faiths, and as long as the opportunity to pray is offered to all faiths.

The little town’s newspaper article is long, so go over and read the whole thing if you hear to read about The Town That Never Learns.  You’ll hear about a councilman who said he’d leave the room if somebody said a non-Christian prayer, and about the city’s district attorney advising him that he was within his rights to do that! Another approving city councilman said this: “We just proclaimed Constitution Week. You know what was said at the end of the (Revolutionary) war? A treaty in Paris that said ‘In the name of the most Holy and undivided Trinity.’ You don’t get that from the Quran. You get it from the Bible. You get it from Christianity. That’s our heritage.” [Indeed, the Treaty of Paris does say that, but then the Constitution has the First Amendment.]

46 thoughts on “Arizona town stipulates that council meetings begin with prayers—but only Christian ones!

  1. The Treaty of Paris (1783) was signed before the Constitution (1789) and the First Amendment.

    I suggest Hudelson check out the Treaty of Tripoli (1796), which has a distinctly different message. Namely, “Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion”

    1. Excellent point! Additionally, when reviewing historical documents, text must be put in context. The preamble to the treaty was written by the British and is an unenforceable section. By signing the treaty the US delegation was no more agreeing to accepting “the undivided Trinity” than they were to accepting that George III ruled “by the Grace of God.” In fact the two propositions, taken together, would be a paradox.

      In the same token, the Treaty of Tripoli’s preamble cannot be taken as firm statement of US policy. However, the First Amendment as well as Article VI of the Constitution are enforceable and clear. The clear context of both can be seen in Madison’s notes on the Convention and his Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments, as well as arguments made during the ratification process of the original constitution (see the North Carolina debates specifically).

    1. I have to remind myself that these folks feel, as do many on the religious edge, that they are fighting, not just for their petty, sinful, dirty, disgusting and temporary earthly lives, but for the eternal salvation of their immortal souls. And though I speak in snark, many people Believe this assertion. Add to that a bit of innate short-sightedness, hostility and tribalism and voila!

      1. Is there a Christian sect that specifies a believer’s immortal soul will be shunned from eternal salvation if the believer fails to pray before a Coolidge city council meeting?

      2. I wonder how many of them gratuitously utter, “Oh My God!” in daily conversation in response to the most trivial observation?

        This locution so frequently falls from the lips of middle-schoolers. A couple of times I haven’t been able to resist asking, “Are you sure you want to bother God about (whatever non-issue is bothering the child)?

        Oh My Zeus! Oh My Thor! Oh My Wotan? Oh My Mithras! Zounds!

  2. The Greece v. Galloway decision was a travesty, in my opinion, but now it looks relatively progressive by this law.
    I expect their arguments will start this way: ‘This is a Christian Nation founded on Christian principals…..’

  3. I was surprised that the comments section attached to the article was fairly critical of the councillors and the decision.

  4. You’ll hear about a councilman who said he’d live the room if somebody said a non-Christian prayer, and the city’s district attorney advising him that he was within his rights to do that!

    As long as he only leaves during the prayer and comes back to do his job when it’s over, he would be in his rights. He’d be a hypocritical jerk, but that’s legal.

    1. Funny thing is, if they have the prayer before the official meeting time, and everyone “left” the room for it (or didn’t show), then filed in to the meeting room for the meeting, that’s pretty much what secularists want.

  5. If it does pass, it would be entertaining to lead with prayers that aren’t politically correct, but sanctioned by the bible while the lawsuits unfold. Things about women remaining silent, and being property, etc.

    1. Yes. “Please Lord, help the women remain silent, and not endanger their immortal souls by seeking to pass their knowledge and wisdom onto men. Lord, give the men strength so they can strike them well if they do. We ask this in the name of merciful Jesus, Lord, who sees what’s in our hearts. Amen.

      1. “We’d all like to thank our helpmate Sister Heather for attempting to offer that prayer. Now, if she’ll return to her seat, cover her head, and remain silent, can we have a man come forward to offer the benedictory prayer as the Good Lord intended?”

        1. Ha ha! 😀

          A bit like the boardroom joke that’s been around for years – that’s an excellent suggestion Ms Smith; we’ll just wait for one of the men to make it so we can act upon it.

  6. The ACLU is working overtime; however, considering how many are fleeing Christian denominations, there’s plenty to pray about.

  7. Let’s see if someone who has legal standing is going to complain, else this is much noisemaking in the wind!

    That means, someone who actually lives in that jurisdiction and will have to request FFRF or ACLU intervene on their behalf. That may be dangerous in such a little community!

    1. Hmm…

      You can act outside the law as long as nobody in town is willing to complain?

      What’s wrong with this picture?

      1. For civil suits? Nothing is wrong, AIUI that’s the way its supposed to work. Somebody has to be harmed before there can be damages or a legal order to change conduct.

        IANAL but AIUI its different for crimes. There the state can bring charges on behalf of any victims even when the victims can’t or won’t come forward (sometimes even when the victim says they don’t want the state to bring charges). And for stuff like speeding tickets and other ‘victimless crimes’ I believe the state is essentially bringing the case on behalf of itself or ‘we the people.’

        1. Criminal prosecutions are always brought on behalf of the sovereign — the federal or state government or (for minor infractions) some subdivision thereof. Victims are never parties to a criminal case (though in some instances their refusal to cooperate with the prosecution may result in a case being unable to proceed due to a lack of evidence).

      2. I agree with you it’s wrong. It means anyone can be threatened out of taking a civil suit. There are blatant abuses of the First Amendment, like counties that put “In God We Trust’ all over their police vehicles but naturally no one wants to be the one to go public. FFRF has therefore been unable to do anything.

      3. None of us likes to see the violation of a right without a corresponding remedy. But there are good, providential reasons why the law requires that a party bringing suit have “standing” — that is, that the party have personally suffered some injury-in-fact.

        Plus, we secularists shouldn’t pattern ourselves on Puritans, whom H.L. Mencken described as “haunted by the fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

        Sure, this city council ordinance is stupid and patently unconstitutional. But if nobody in Coolidge cares, there are more pressing matters on which to devote time, attention, and assets.

        1. There is a difference between nobody caring and nobody complaining. People can be intimidated into silence. It seems to me that either an unconstitutional act is committed or it isn’t. Whether someone is willing/able to complain is a separate matter. What bothers me is the idea that perfect intimidation goes unchecked.

          1. As long as free legal services are being offered by the FFRF, someone who cares may well be willing to complain — indeed, I expect there may be a whole lot of complainants once Coolidge residents realize the impact that prolonged litigation over this ordinance may have on their property taxes.

            Their Christianity is one thing; their pocketbooks, another.

  8. As I recall, the treaty of Paris was written by the French, using standard French boilerplate. Similar language can be found in other treaties written by other nations.

  9. These people better think twice about passing, though, lest they saddle their small town with enormous legal bills brought by an FFRF or ACLU lawsuit

    Well if they’ve consulted the town’s lawyer and the lawyer has advised them that what they’re doing is illegal, hopefully their standard immunity goes away and any future lawsuit can target the actual individual law-breakers. Rather than the town having to pay for their idiocy.

    1. Problem there is, the decision whether the city should indemnify council members for their individual legal expenses would in all likelihood be made by … the Coolidge city council.

  10. Worth a read:

    ‘Thompson, who said he himself is a Christian, was most vehement in opposition to the clause.
    “I’m not going to get the taxpayers sued,” Thompson said. “If I had a problem with what was being said during the prayer, I wouldn’t pay attention. … We’re going to knowingly become involved in litigation that we cannot afford.”
    Hudson said he hopes it won’t come to that.
    “That’s why we pay him,” Hudson said, pointing to Fitzgibbons [the City Attorney]. “To avoid us getting into these problems.”
    To that, Fitzgibbons responded, “Oh, you’ll get into this problem.” ‘

    Not all the Christians are daft. Just a majority of the councillors who were present. They can’t say they weren’t warned.

    cr

  11. I was born in small-town Arizona, surrounded by ponderosa pines and Mormons. The family moved south for a time, only 50 minutes north of Coolidge, in fact. Though I haven’t been there, by its ~1hr-distance away from both ASU and UofA, and its median household income of 29,000, suggest this is a group of people with little to look forward to besides church. I’d venture to guess that the un-churched keep to their slightly more sane and misanthropic selves and don’t get involved in city politics, which are cross-fertilized with extraverted and outspoken believers. Most people in small-town Arizona live there because they can do so cheaply and can survive without a college degree.

    1. I grew up in Coolidge (and Phoenix). Coolidge today is nothing like the old town. All the businesses on the central loop (including my dad’s clothing store) are gone. Cohen’s Popular Store building (he was a competitor to my dad) is set for demolition. The rot began in earnest when Wal-Mart came in. The Casa Grande Ruins National Monument is the only thing that is still going from the old days. Well, I guess Tag’s Restaurant is still there.

        1. I’m not sure Apache Junction ever was much of a town. The few times I was there all I remember was a crossroads and some trailers.

  12. I am sad to say that Coolidge, Arizona is the town where I grew up. But back then all stuff like this was either not spoken of or taken for granted. I remember seeing “No minors – No colored” on the entrance to a local bar. My family wasn’t especially religious, and I don’t remember school prayers. There might have been, but I probably didn’t pay much attention if there were. It was the 1940s and 50s–a different time. Blacks, Hispanics, Indians (it is close to the Pima Reservation), were all on the fringe of society. Jews were tolerated because they ran clothing stores. (So did my dad, who was not Jewish but talked about all the Jewish competition.) There were a few Asians. Gays and atheists I suppose were sort of swept under the rug. I only knew one kid who actually said he was an atheist. But he didn’t make a fuss about it.

    But these are different times. Christians, as we know, are “under attack”, as are Christian values on which our country was supposedly founded, etc. etc. These council members will not survive a court challenge, and they are heading in that direction, emboldened no doubt by the spirit of Kim Davis…

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