Sep 21, 2015

Officials in Coolidge, Ariz., must immediately amend a newly adopted prayer policy that requires Christian prayers at its public meetings, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

City Council members recently voted to restrict government prayer to Christians. In a letter sent Friday to members of the Coolidge Town Council and Coolidge City Attorney David Fitzgibbons, Americans United attorneys noted that the policy violates the First Amendment and the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Town of Greece v. Galloway.

“It [the policy] would discriminate against non-Christians, lead the City to prescribe and censor the prayers’ content, and exploit the prayer opportunity to advance Christianity and Christianity alone,” the letter states.

“In order to comply with the First Amendment and respect the religious diversity of Coolidge’s citizens, the City should rescind its Christian-only policy and replace it with a policy that invites invocation speakers on equal terms,” it continues.

The letter further notes that although the Supreme Court ruled government-sponsored prayer constitutional in the Greece case, its decision clearly stated that municipal bodies cannot restrict prayers to members of one religion.

“Elected officials can’t use government meetings as an excuse to proselytize,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “If council members want to have prayers, they’re legally obligated to make sure that the privilege of giving them is available to everyone, regardless of religious affiliation.”

“It is remarkable that in 2015, a government body is so flagrantly attempting to adopt an official religion,” said Americans United Senior Litigation Counsel Gregory M. Lipper. “Even the city’s own attorney admitted that the policy is unconstitutional; the City Council would be wise to follow his advice.”

The letter asks for a response within 30 days. It was prepared by Americans United Staff Attorney Ian Smith, with assistance from Lipper and Legal Director Richard Katskee.