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9/26/2012 9:25:00 AM
Prayer at Dewey-Humboldt council meetings
Wright balks at paying for unrequested legal memo

Sue Tone

Dewey-Humboldt town council member Nancy Wright objected to the town paying its attorney for a legal memorandum regarding prayers at public meetings, but the council, by a 6-1 vote, decided to let the town manager handle the issue involving six-tenths of an hour billing.

The town attorney provided the D-H town manager with information from a recent case involving prayer at public meetings as a courtesy, and charged the town for the five-page memo dated Aug. 25 that no one had requested. Wright said if the attorney thought it necessary, she could have called the town manager and given her a free "heads up."

At issue is that the ruling in Galloway v. Town of Greece is from the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals and doesn't apply to Dewey-Humboldt; Arizona falls under the 9th Circuit Court. Wright believes that the court's decision does not affect Dewey-Humboldt and no one asked the attorney to write the memo. She requested the town not pay the .6 hours the attorney billed - about $81.

All correspondence from the town attorney, Curtis, Goodwin, Sullivan, Udall & Schwab, P.L.C., is considered privileged counsel-client information. The council first approved a motion to release the information in order to discuss it in a public meeting.

The D-H town council has opened its regular meetings with an invocation since the town incorporated in 2004. In most instances, a council member provides the prayer, and for the vast majority of meetings, that council member is Wright.

In Prescott Valley, the town council has a rotating schedule of local pastors that take turns with opening prayers at council meetings, said June Katanzarite, deputy town clerk. Likewise, Chino Valley town council members provide the invocation on a rotating basis. Administrative Assistant Patti Crouse said the City of Prescott town council offers the prayer opportunity to any local church or ministries.

Prior to the Galloway decision, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the practice of prayers at meetings of public bodies based on historical practice, as opposed to complying with the usual First Amendment tests for separation of church and state. The Galloway decision determined that the Town of Greece's prayer procedure and practice violated the Establishment Clause, the first part of the First Amendment that states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." The town invited all local clergy to deliver the invocation; however, the substantial majority of prayers over the course of 11 years contained "uniquely Christian language."

This ruling follows a similar 9th Circuit Court of Appeals case, Backus v. Palo Verde Unified School District Board of Education, which said the board's practice of ending invocations with "in the name of Jesus" violated the Establishment Clause as an unconstitutional effort to advance one faith over others.

Recent invocations at the Dewey-Humboldt council meeting do not refer to Jesus Christ by name, although they have in the past.

Attorney Phyllis Smiley said if the 9th Circuit Court were to accept the Galloway decision, the D-H invocations would likely violate the Establishment Clause.

"In Dewey-Humboldt, the overwhelming majority, if not all, invocations are Christian," Smiley wrote in the memo. "It also appears that under Galloway, references in the prayers to "Jesus," "Christ," "Our Savior" and other such references are not acceptable. As an alternative, the Town could offer a moment of silence for meditation, contemplation or silent prayer instead of having a member of council conduct a group prayer."

D-H councilman David Hiles said he supported paying for opinion as it was given for the town's benefit.

Mayor Terry Nolan agreed, saying, "In the past, the attorney sends notices. To pick one out to not pay is detrimental."

Council member Dennis Repan also supported paying the bill. The council approved a motion to let the town manager handle the billing issue 6-1, with Wright opposing.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, October 22, 2012
Article comment by: Discussion Not Emotion

To the writer of "Dear Lynn" -

I appreciate the gentle tone of your response to Lynn. However, you seem to be conflating non-Christian desires to not have Christian prayers pushed on them at public meetings with a desire to suppress your freedoms. This is a misinterpretation on your part.

A public town meeting is supposed to be representative of all citizens in the area, not just the majority. As such, a Christian prayer to Jesus at the beginning of the meeting would be just as inappropriate as an Islamic tribute to the Prophet or a moment of praise for secular humanism. It is not as simple as "just get up and leave, no one is forcing you to listen to the prayer." It is isolating, not inclusive, and that's the problem with it. The meeting is open to all Americans, not just Christian Americans.

A moment of silence is absolutely perfect. It allows religious Americans (of any religion or denomination) to utter a prayer if they wish, and it allows for quiet contemplation or meditation for nonreligious Americans. It is inclusive of everyone, in a way that a prayer to Jesus would not be.

I notice that Christians are far too used to their privileged position in our society, and find these attempts to level the playing field offensive. I understand the frustration, but at least try to understand that it isn't about shutting Christianity out, it's about letting other viewpoints in.

In a democracy, the majority might be able to elect a politician or pass a proposition, but the principles of democracy prevent the majority from pushing their values on the minority.

Posted: Saturday, October 20, 2012
Article comment by: Dear Lynn

I am thankful to. I am thankful that I live in this country, and I am thankful that I have the right to believe in what I believe in. I for one agree with having prayer, regardless if it is considered "old law." We, as a country, were founded on a strong belief in God. And in my opinion, we should not skew from the presence of God.

The fact that we live in a country that allows you to have your faith, or lack there of, is the same reason we of faith are proud to be here. If I do not like something, I have the right to not attend, or keep away from it, or as you said "enter after the prayers are said." That is what is so wonderful about "Freedom."

I ask you, why should there be a law omitting my faith in God on the same grounds this country was founded on? Why are there laws protecting your opinion and rights but none protecting mine? As you said, Christian beliefs are a minority, so why are we not protected as such? Where is the ACLU for Christians? There isn't any. All we have is ourselves to protect our right to believe in God. So why does it bother you and others like you?

I am willing to accept your views and the views of others, so why not allow us a little freedom and be accepting of ours? Unfortunately that will never happen. And do you know why? I leave that to you to answer, because I would only be judging, or assuming.

Thing is, we Christians are more accepting of the same people who cannot nor will not accept us.

Regardless of my beliefs, or yours, the Town of Dewey-Humboldt should not be paying for a service they did not ask for. It is simply preposterous. Which, I BELIEVE, is the reason for this article.

Posted: Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Article comment by: lynn collins

as a non-christian who has been politically active i can tell you that legislative prayers can be quite insulting to us heretics (non-christians). and they send a clear message that the legislative body in question does indeed favor one (majority) faith above any others.
of course, i am free to and have in the past, entered public meetings after the prayer is over. but in one case after doing this over a course of several months folks start asking questions, some even invited me to this or that church. which puts us heretics in the position of being singled out.
this nation is great because it has become as diverse as it has. folks "in power" really need to acknowledge that this issue has a minority point of view too.
just because a practice is rooted in cultural tradition from colonial times to the present does not mean that exclusionary tactics in the public square should still be accepted.
a lot of bad law has been retired. we stopped hanging horse thieves, jailing people for selling contraceptives to unmarried folks, and banning inter-racial marraige a long time ago.
this is the twenty-first century, not the eighteenth. america is not a monotheistic country anymore and that is one thing to be thankful for.


Posted: Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Article comment by: Nancy Wright

Why should Dewey-Humboldt pay for an opinion on something that may happen in the future but has not happened yet? When either the 9th Circuit Court makes a ruling or the Supreme Court does so, it would then be appropriate to get our Town Attorney’s opinion and pay for it. Additionally, the Town Attorney's opinion had some inaccuracies in it regarding my use of a diety's name.
It is interesting that Congress has opened with prayer by a paid chaplain for most of its history. In the so-called Marsh decision, Chief Justice Burger concluded: “The opening of sessions of legislative and other deliberative public bodies with prayer is deeply embedded in the history and tradition of this country. From colonial times through the founding of the Republic and ever since, the practice of legislative prayer has coexisted with the principles of disestablishment and religious freedom”.
Additionally, Supreme Court precedent and the precedent of many lower courts, along with the practices of Congress and many of this nation’s presidents, indicate that legislative prayers—even sectarian ones—are clearly constitutional and “deeply embedded in the history and tradition of this country.” (Cited at Marsh, 463 U.S. at 786). Sectarian references in legislative prayers are not unconstitutional. Only exploitative government action that deliberately and exclusively seeks to aggressively promote one religion to the exclusion of others is a problem. Absent such exploitation, it is not the government’s job “to embark on a sensitive evaluation or to parse the content of a particular prayer.” (Cited again from Marsh at 795.

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