May 2016 Church & State - May 2016

Phoenix Officials Return Prayer To Agenda After Community Complaints

  AU admin

The Phoenix City Council has decided to once again begin its meetings with official prayers after a brief flirtation with an opening moment of silence lead to community backlash.

The city council voted 6-2 March 23 to bring back spoken prayers to its meetings. The invocations may only be made by chaplains for the local police and fire departments.

This represents yet another policy reversal for the Phoenix City Council in the last few months. Earlier this year, the council voted to end its 65-year policy of allowing sponsored prayers in order to deny a member of the Satanic Temple the opportunity to deliver a pre-meeting prayer in February. A moment of silence was chosen to replace the old prayer practice.

But according to The Arizona Republic, that decision lead to significant backlash from the community – including threats of recall elections to remove officials who voted in favor of the moment of silence.

Under the council’s old prayer policy, any member of a religious group could ask to give a sponsored prayer before a council meeting. The new policy, which is far more restrictive, was opposed by Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and Vice Mayor Kate Gallego. Stanton said the modified policy puts the city’s police and fire chiefs in a “constitutional conundrum” because they have to decide which religions will be represented by chaplains.

The city’s attorney, Brad Holm, saw no issue with the chaplains-only plan.

“The answer is it’s constitutional in accordance with a long line of cases, so the probabilities are that it would be upheld by a court,” he said several weeks before the policy was adopted.

But others outside the council opposed the vote.

“We further note that the council’s current practice of observing a moment of silence prior to the commencement of council meetings is inclusive of all faiths, and of those who do not subscribe to any faith, and discriminatory against none, and we call upon the mayor and council to strong­ly consider the continuance of this practice,” the Phoe­nix Human Relations Commission said in a statement.   

Prayer is scheduled to return to the city council meetings on May 4, The Republic said.

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