An Arizona city council is considering a proposal that would allow only Christian prayers to be said its meetings.
The city of Coolidge’s council voted 4-2 Monday, with one member absent, to amend a resolution so it no longer allows prayers from a variety of faiths before meetings.
Councilman Rob Hudelson moved to amend the proposal, saying Christianity is in the country’s history. Attorney Denis Fitzgibbons warned that the city was opening itself up to possible discrimination lawsuits by only allowing Christian prayers. Hudelson said Fitzgibbons is paid "to avoid us getting into these problems."
"Oh, you'll get into this problem," said Fitzgibbons, who is rewriting the resolution to include the changes sought by the council and expects to bring it back for further consideration.
The Casa Grande Dispatch reports Fairhaven Baptist Church pastor and the city’s public safety chaplain Byron Sanders presented the original ordinance. That resolution called for sending letters to ministers of all faiths around the city and would have allowed a rotating cast of prayer leaders at the start of each council meeting.
Councilman Gary Lewis voted in favor of the proposal. He said he may leave the room if he didn’t support the person who was delivering the prayer.
"Under my faith, I wouldn't sit here and listen to it," Lewis said. "I would walk away."
Victoria Lopez, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, said allowing Christian-only prayer raises constitutional issues.
"We are of the opinion it would violate the Constitution and send a really bad message to folks that live in the town of Coolidge that, if they're not Christian, then they are excluded from participating in government affairs," Lopez told The Associated Press.
"This is a striking take on this issue, one that you think we wouldn't see in 2015," she said.
Should the resolution become final, there is a possibility the city could be taken to court. Fitzgibbons referenced the 2014 Supreme Court Case Town of Greece v. Galloway, which allowed prayers at council meetings as long as it didn’t disparage other faiths and as long as the opportunity to pray is offered to all faiths, according to the Dispatch.
May Jon Thompson, a Christian who voted against the resolution, said the council is heading toward litigation it can’t afford.
“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.”
Councilman Gilbert Lopez, a member of a Catholic church, voted to reject the Christian prayer-only proposal.
"When we took the oath of office, we said we would uphold the laws of the state of Arizona and the United States," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.