Rules & Procedures Committee Dealing with Prayer in City Council Debate

Rules & Procedures Committee Dealing with Prayer in City Council Debate
YAKIMA – The separation of church and state may be coming to City Council meetings. A local man, with the backing of the national organization the Freedom from Religion Foundation, filed a complaint about the council opening their meetings with prayer.

"It's a city government business,” said Gonzalo Guillen. “It's something that's supposed to represent all of the community, and I don't feel that's what it does (when there's prayer during meetings.)"

And Guillen isn't alone in his anger. He's supported by the Freedom from Religion Foundation group, based in Madison, Wisconsin. FFRF sent Mayor Micah Cawley a letter accusing the council of violating the constitutional principle of the separation between church and state.

The group's lawyer, Rebecca Markert sent Action News this statement: “Any type of prayer at a city council meeting is unnecessary, inappropriate and divisive. Calling upon council members and Yakima citizens to rise and pray is coercive and beyond the scope of secular city government.”

The council received the complaint letter in November, and sent it straight to the City Attorney to be reviewed. It's now in the hands of the Rules and Procedures Committee within the City Council.

“There are groups that I've talked to, the Alliance Defense Fund, that are willing to come here and defend us,” said Cawley. “They’re basically saving the tax payers money, and using their private funds to take this issue up. That's something the council will have to decide at a future date."

Cawley said the three person committee will come up with a recommendation in the next three weeks. So far, FFRF has not filed an official law suit, but Markert is not ruling that out in the future.

The council will continue to pray before meetings while this issue is being examined.