Ministers and citizens piled into the Bishop City Council chambers Monday night for public comment. They wanted to say more about the City’s new guidelines on prayers before Council meetings. City Attorney Peter Tracy first gave them all a civics lesson on freedom of religion.
Tracy went back to England before the foundation of America. He told of the “great amount of religious discrimination” and the eventual birth of the Church of England. He said a main motivation of the colonials was the exercise of freedom of religion which eventually led to the First Amendment of the Constitution. Tracy said it means government can not “establish or support a given religion. When the rubber meets the road, it’s difficult,” he said.
In Bishop, where the Christian religion dominates, some ministers and citizens said they were offended that the City made rules to eliminate specific mentions of Jesus Christ in the public prayers. Tracy tried to show the protestors that the law and court cases support this kind of limitation in city government because of the separation of church and state.
The City Attorney also pointed to potential attorneys fees if the City were sued by an outside party. Those attorneys, he said, could collect as much as $300,000 or more. Tracy said, “This is the risk the City has with taxpayers’ dollars.” When Rajan Zed of Reno asked to deliver a Hindu prayer at the City Council last month, Tracy said denial would have been risky so the Council adopted guidelines.
Mayor Dave Stottlemyre said the Council would put this issue on a future agenda for further discussion. Then the public spoke. Wesley Bloom said he would like to see the guidelines reversed. He said, “It grieves me very much that our decisions are based on the fear of lawsuits. This compromises our freedoms.”
Father Gracey said church and state should not rule one another. Gayla Wolf called the lack of religion in public “a growing cancer.” Pam Mitchell said she is a Christian and appreciates people voicing their feelings, but supports praying in private not publicly. Said Mitchell, “I never felt cut off and denied regarding prayers in public meetings. Everyone should be free to worship as they want.”
More on all of this at a future Bishop City Council meeting.