Phoenix City Council Reinstates Spoken Prayer Before Meetings

Published: Wednesday, March 23, 2016 - 7:42pm
Updated: Thursday, March 24, 2016 - 11:34am
(Photo by Christina Estes - KJZZ)
Phoenix council members reinstated spoken prayers at meetings on March 23, 2016.

By a 6-2 vote on Monday, Phoenix City Council members approved a rule change that calls for a chaplain from the Phoenix Police or Fire departments to lead a public prayer before meetings.

The new rule follows several weeks of passionate debate at council chambers. It started in February when followers of the Satanic Temple were scheduled to lead the public invocation.

Rather than let that happen, the council voted to replace spoken prayers with a moment of silence. But, that move outraged some people, including Councilman Sal Diciccio.

“Freedom of expression is turning into freedom of no religious expression, and that seems to be fine with others, and I don’t understand that," he said just before voting. "That’s just not what this country has been about.”

Mayor Greg Stanton and Vice Mayor Kate Gallego voted against reinstating spoken prayer.

“It appears that we’ve kind of kicked the can down to law enforcement organizations and now they’re gonna be placed in the very, very difficult position of having to pick who gets to be volunteer chaplains and who doesn’t be volunteer chaplains and potentially be subject to litigation as a result of those very, very difficult decisions," Stanton said.

Phoenix Fire Deputy Chief Shelly Jamison told KJZZ that the fire department has one volunteer chaplain who is Episcopalian, but in his role as a chaplain he provides comfort to people from all backgrounds and faiths. The department has no plans to get involved in scheduling prayers and will let the department's chaplain decide when — or if — he wants to lead invocations at council meetings.

Jeremy Helfgot, a member of the Phoenix Human Relations Commission, asked council members to keep the moment of silent prayer and reflection. He also said that the police department currently has four chaplains which inlcude one who is Jewish, one who is Southern Baptist and two who are Evangelical.

Phoenix police Sgt. Trent Crump told KJZZ the department has four active chaplains and according to the ordinance, the Phoenix City Clerk Department is tasked with contacting them about their availability. If no chaplain is scheduled to lead an invocation, the mayor can call for a moment of silent prayer and reflection.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to include a statement from the Phoenix Police Department.