Controversy surrounds Coolidge prayer resolution

It's a town decision that is proving controversial.

The plan was to allow any pastor or priest from any of the city's churches to come and give an opening prayer, but one council member changed it only to allow Christian prayers to be given, which the majority of other council members were in favor of.

Allowing an opening prayer at council meetings isn't a new thing to the City of Coolidge. The city opened its meetings with a prayer from 1996 to 2006.

Mayor Jon Thompson said it was only outlawed because of the problems lining up ministers.

City Attorney Denis Fitzgibbons says the resolution is very similar to the town of Greece Supreme Court Case, which allows for prayers at council meetings as long as their is an opportunity to pray for all faiths.

"As long as they all have a fair opportunity to come and give an invocation, then it's going to be legal. That doesn't mean they can come in a criticize other religions or anything like that, but they come in a give an invocation that's consistent with the policy that's above you or before you tonight, then I think we're going to be fine," said Denis Fitzgibbons.

At first, no one seemed to mind until Councilmember Robert Hudson made the motion to approve the resolution, only with the stipulation that it's a Christian invocation, saying the United States is a Christian nation.

"That's our heritage, we should not be ashamed of it, nor should we be pushed into a corner because supreme court decisions. The first prayer in Congress ended by saying thy son, our savior, based on the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior Amen," said Robert Hudelson.

After adding the stipulation, all members of the council agreed to it, except Councilmember Gilbert Lopez and Mayor Thompson. Both said it would almost guarantee a lawsuit.

"Because my concern is Christian, but I'm not willing to get the city of Coolidge sued over an indication," said Mayor Jon Thompson.

The City Attorney also thinks this will cause a problem. The resolution will now be re-drafted with the stipulation that prayers will only be Christian. It will be voted on at the next city council meeting scheduled for September 28.

UPDATE: In a council meeting September 21, members voted not to pursue the proposal that would permit prayers before meetings. They also voted to allow any religious group in the city to offer prayer before a council meeting.