Arizona Town Pretty Sure Jesus Never Followed The First Amendment Either

And that's how America was made!

The town of Coolidge, Arizona, proudly voted last week to only allow Christian prayers at the opening of public meetings, even after both the mayor and the city's attorney warned that it means the town will almost certainly lose an expensive lawsuit against the new ordinance. Seems the majority of the council is worried that Christians are being persecuted, and now they'll get the chance to find out. Is it really persecution if you invite the lion in yourself?

Apparently, this is the hot new trend for small towns that love the Bible and the Constitution, but can't tell the difference between the two: insist on an action that clearly violates the establishment clause, then whine when the ACLU or the Freedom From Religion Foundation promises a lawsuit.

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The original version of the measure would have allowed "members of all religious organizations within Coolidge to offer a prayer, moment of silence or short message at the start of council meetings." That wasn't good enough for council member Rob Hudelson, who's also a Baptist pastor; at his urging, the council passed, by a 4-2 vote, an amendment specifying that the prayers be limited only to Christian groups.

Hudelson explained that in the strange parallel universe he inhabits, the USA was founded as a Christian theocracy:

“I think it’s very important,” Hudelson said. “We just proclaimed Constitution Week. You know what was said at the end of the (Revolutionary) war? A treaty in Paris that said ‘In the name of the most Holy and undivided Trinity.’ You don’t get that from the Quran. You get it from the Bible. You get it from Christianity. That’s our heritage.”

He's right! The 1783 peace treaty between Britain and the United States really does say that. Weird that Hudelson would mention Constitution Week, since the actual foundational law of the nation says a whole bunch of things about keeping church and state separate, and not a single word about the USA being based on any religion at all. Must have been an oversight on the founders' part.

City attorney Dennis Fitzgibbons warned that the resolution is completely illegal under Supreme Court rulings going back decades, including last year's decision holding that opening civic meetings with prayers is allowed under the First Amendment, as long as all faiths are allowed to participate in such prayers.

At one point, according to Phoenix TV station KNXV, Hudelson seemed to think that being an attorney means you should be able to find One Weird Trick to do stuff that's illegal, rather than to advise the town on what the law really says:

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.

KNXV didn't mention whether Fitzgibbons's teeth were grinding audibly as he left the room. He told the Arizona Republic that he would do his job as he was told:

"They gave me direction, and so I'm going to do that," he said.

He declined to say whether he thought such a resolution would withstand constitutional scrutiny but added that the Supreme Court was "very clear" on the overall issue of prayers at local government meetings

Again, he somehow avoided openly saying that he worked for a bunch of morons, which may be commendable; he'll get the chance to say "I told you so" later, if the final resolution passes and the ACLU of Arizona follows through on a promised lawsuit. ACLU-AZ legal director Victoria Lopez said the group plans to send the Coolidge council a letter noting that only allowing one religion to lead prayers would unquestionably violate the First Amendment:

"They are creating a policy that will advocate for a particular religion," she said. "There isn't a legal question. It's problematic on First Amendment grounds, certainly, and it seems like a really bad policy position to take."

Then again, given the Kim Davis case and Ben Carson's insistence that American political life should be limited to the right religions, some American fundamentalists are really hot on insisting that the dumb old Constitution can't push them around.

[Slate / Arizona Republic / Coolidge Examiner / KNXV-TV]

Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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