By Paul Giblin The Republic | azcentral.com Tue Aug 20, 2013 9:58 PM
The Glendale City Council is reflecting on whether to pray before meetings.
Typically, City Council meetings convene with the Pledge of Allegiance and a moment of silence, but Mayor Jerry Weiers has proposed “solemnizing” city proceedings with a prayer or invocation.
It’s no simple matter. Glendale officials have proposed a 16-point set of guidelines on how to pray without showing favoritism to any particular prayer leader, faith or belief, according to the proposed guidelines.
Among the proposed policy’s points:
No member of the council or anyone else attending council meetings will be required to participate in prayers.
Prayer leaders will not be paid.
City officials will recommend, but not require, that prayer leaders limit their orations to two minutes.
City employees will be barred from examining, censoring or participating in the preparation of prayers before they’re given.
At least 32 municipalities statewide convene council meetings with prayers or invocations, according to research compiled by Glendale officials.
Councilman Manny Martinez said during a public workshop Tuesday that he opposed the idea of Glendale joining the list. He prefers the current prayer-free protocol.
“No matter what faith, what religion, you can pray, you can meditate, you can do whatever you want in that moment of silence,” he said.
“The only thing I can think of with this — and I know I’m in the minority — is that down the line, it could cause some problems.”
Vice Mayor Yvonne Knaack agreed.
“This has turned into such a complicated issue, and I just don’t think that prayer should be that complicated,” she said.
“I just think that to have all this to tell you how to pray, and who can pray, and how many times, I think, I’m sorry, I think, it’s just, I just, ah ...” she said searching for the right words.
“I agree prayer is wonderful, but I’m also in agreement that I would prefer to still see a moment of silence.”
Weiers, a former state representative, told his colleagues that prayers have been offered before sessions in the state Legislature for more than a century without causing an issue.
But a secular invocation caused a stir three months ago.
Rep. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, who’s atheist, used his turn to offer the invocation on May 21 to ask lawmakers to celebrate their “shared humanness.”
“This is a room in which there are many challenging debates, many moments of tension, of ideological division, of frustration,” he said at the time. “But this is also a room where, as my secular-humanist tradition stresses, by the very fact of being human, we have much more in common than we have differences.”
The following day, Rep. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, who’s Christian, asked lawmakers to join him in a second daily prayer in repentance for Mendez’s secular invocation.
The debate resurfaces fairly regularly.
In 2011, Litchfield Park Councilman Peter Mahoney started walking out during prayers after the council replaced its moments of silence with invocations that Mahoney felt were Christian-oriented.
No disrespect was intended, he said at the time.
“I’m a Christian and a true believer in the separation of church and state,” Mahoney said.
The same year, the Chandler Unified School District went the opposite direction. It switched from public prayers to moments of reflection after officials at an Arizona School Boards Association law conference suggested that boards avoid prayers to prevent lawsuits.
The Glendale council is scheduled to vote on the prayer proposal Sept. 10.