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Church State Issues

Prayer returns to Mesa school board

Jan 16, 2014

Arizona Republic

Prayer returns to Mesa school board

By Cathryn Creno The Republic

azcentral.com Wed Jan 15, 2014 10:04 PM

Prayer is coming back to Mesa Public Schools’ governing-board room, but it will take place before the official start of meetings.

The five-member board voted unanimously this week in favor of a new policy to invite leaders from a variety of Mesa religious organizations, including churches, synagogues and mosques, to pray before the start of meetings.

The prayer will be part of a new pre-meeting program, which will include the Pledge of Allegiance and entertainment by student musicians, planned to start on Feb. 11.

The board’s Jan. 14 vote reversed a November decision by the board to replace a formal prayer with a moment of silence.

“Mesa City Council meetings begin with prayer, and our school board meetings have traditionally begun in the same way,” board clerk Michelle Udall said before the vote.

“Prayer helps set the tone for the deliberations that are to follow. Our Founding Fathers clearly did not intend for prayer to be banished from public meetings. [Rubbish, they certainly did intend that, which is why they passed the First Amendment!!!!] Those who do not wish to participate are always allowed to refrain.” [If you don't like our official government prayers just get out of town!!!! You ain't welcome here!!!!]

Gilbert Public Schools’ governing board has discussed reinstating prayer before meetings and may vote on the issue on Jan. 28.

The Gilbert district replaced an invocation before meetings with a moment of silence more than a decade ago.

Discussions at the Gilbert board’s Jan. 14 meeting indicated there would not be a unanimous vote to bring back the prayer.

Board member Daryl Colvin said he would support a prayer before meetings because the current policy has resulted in driving “God completely out of the classroom as well as the board meeting.” [God, if he or she exists, belongs in churchs and private homes, not in the government]

But members Lily Tram and Jill Humpherys said they were concerned that reinstating the prayer could make the district vulnerable to lawsuits.

“Even if it does pass and it’s similar to the Mesa district, we are still at risk of being sued,” Tram said.

Similar concerns caused the Mesa board to drop its prayer for the moment of silence at its Nov. 12 meeting.

Until that meeting, Mesa was one of the few districts in the Valley to still feature a prayer on meeting agendas. The Chandler Unified School District ended the practice last year and opted for a moment of reflection after an Arizona School Boards Association law conference suggested that boards avoid prayers to prevent lawsuits.

The Mesa board had asked its attorney about the prayer because the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in mid-November about whether municipal governments violate the Constitution and endorse religion by opening their meetings with prayers. [They do. But I am sure the Mesa board will find an attorney who if given enough of our tax dollars will say otherwise!]

Many public officials believe a Supreme Court ruling could affect prayer at all levels of government, including school districts. [Who needs a Supreme Court ruling. The First Amendment and Arizona Constitution already forbid them]

“We are very highly watched and reported on,” board member Steven Peterson said at Mesa’s meeting on Tuesday. “We want to make sure we are acting appropriately.” [Translation - We want to force our religious views on the community under the guise that it is Constitutional]

After dropping the prayer, Mesa board members received 20 e-mails from district residents and others who opposed the move. They received only one letter in favor of the moment of silence.

“It is vital to buttress the Jeffersonian ‘wall of separation between church and state’ which has served our nation so well,” Mary Speropulos wrote in a Jan. 3 e-mail.

Two prayer supporters, former Mesa school board member David Lane and Randy Hatch of the Arizona Red Mountain Veterans and Patriots spoke in favor of the board’s latest revised policy during Tuesday’s meeting.

The only objection they voiced was to the prayer being said before the official meeting start.

“The community supports the prayer,” Lane said. “I also think it should happen after the gavel.”

Superintendent Michael Cowan said, however, that creating a time before the official start of the board meeting for the prayer, pledge and musical performances is part of plan to “respond to concerns being expressed” about the legality of the prayer.

“Historically, Mesa (Public) Schools has begun its meetings with an invocation ... but we became aware that we needed to evaluate how that process was managed,” Cowan said.

“We were able to design a process that is legally sound and provides for diversity of representation, as well.”

Republic reporter Karen Schmidt contributed to this article.