MESA, Ariz. — A school board in Arizona has voted unanimously to reinstate prayers at public meetings after voting just two months ago to replace the invocations with a moment of silence.
The five-member Mesa school board agreed without dissent to invite clergy from all religions to participate in a new pre-meeting program, according to The Republic.
The vote, held on Tuesday, reversed a decision in November that replaced prayer with a moment of silence. Reports state that the board was initially fearful of losing a lawsuit if the prayers were challenged in court.
The Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) had pressured the board last year to discontinue the prayers following a complaint from an unidentified resident.
“Public school boards may not include prayer as part of their scheduled meetings,” the organization wrote in a letter last October. “Federal courts have struck down school board practices that include this religious ritual. Prayer at public school board meetings is unnecessary, inappropriate, and divisive.”
But a number of citizens complained that the prayers had been discontinued, and urged school officials to stand strong.
“MPS has always stood for the solid traditional (and, yes, Christian) values that this country was founded on. Unfortunately, the culture that has defined America’s greatness is eroding into political correctness,” resident Harry Scott emailed to the board following the decision. “Please summon up the courage to stand firm. The district needs prayer now more than ever.”
In pondering a resolution to the matter, Clerk Mike Hughes suggested that the board would be within the bounds of the law if it presented prayers from a variety of faiths. District employees had delivered the invocations prior to the November vote.
“We had the same people standing up and saying the same type of prayer over and over,” he told reporters. “We didn’t have a clear policy about what the prayer is supposed to be.”
On Tuesday, the board agreed with the concept of diversifying the prayers as part of a new pre-meeting program, noting their desire to restore the invocations to the meetings.
“Prayer helps set the tone for the deliberations that are to follow,” stated clerk Michelle Udall prior to the vote. “Our Founding Fathers clearly did not intend for prayer to be banished from public meetings. Those who do not wish to participate are always allowed to refrain.”
FFRF had sent a second letter to the board urging officials not to restore the prayers, but was unsuccessful in its efforts.
As previously reported, the United States Supreme Court is set to hear argument in March regarding whether prayers predominantly in Jesus’ name are lawful if presented in cities that are principally Christian and Catholic. The ruling could have a significant impact on city hall and school board prayers nationwide.