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Prayer event becomes hot topic at Council meeting

Posted 6/7/17

Two women used the call to the public segment of the Town Council meeting on June 1 to raise the concerns of the Secular Coalition of Arizona related to the actions of Mayor Linda Kavanagh and the …

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Prayer event becomes hot topic at Council meeting


Two women used the call to the public segment of the Town Council meeting on June 1 to raise the concerns of the Secular Coalition of Arizona related to the actions of Mayor Linda Kavanagh and the town related to the National Day of Prayer event held at Fountain Park on May 4.

Interim Community Services Director Rachael Goodwin has confirmed for The Times that the organizers of the National Day of Prayer event did pay the appropriate fees to rent the park for the event.

Susan Fallon, a Fountain Hills resident, said she was specifically objecting to Mayor Kavanagh’s proclamation supporting the religious event citing it as a violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Fallon said that as a non-believer she should not be considered anti-religion.

“I believe it is the absolute right of individuals to believe or not believe in a supreme being,” Fallon said. “(Individuals) should be able to freely practice their beliefs in both private and public settings.

“It is not acceptable for the government to insert itself into the religious arena, thereby excluding the growing number of agnostics, atheists and those who simply hold to no specific religion.”

Fallon was continuing to read from the text of the Day of Prayer program when the three-minute time limit expired and Kavanagh told her that time was up. Fallon asked for indulgence and continued until Kavanagh stopped her again. There was a brief exchange between the two and Fallon said she was never told there was a time limit. Kavanagh said she would have the Sheriff’s Office representative present show Fallon out.

“That’s a bit cowardly,” Fallon said before sitting down.

Dianne Post is a Phoenix attorney who was present, representing local resident Mark Forster, as well as the Secular Coalition of Arizona.

Post stated she had written a letter at the request of Forster on April 30 stating that the town’s support via Kavanagh’s proclamation was an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.

“The town’s endorsement and expenditure of taxpayer dollars on this religious ritual and sectarian event are unconstitutional,” Post states in her letter.”

“Every government must maintain separation from religious activity,” Post said at the meeting. “The Arizona Constitution is even stronger than the US Constitution as it specifically protects the non-religious.”

She cited a report of a town employee posting a sign in Fountain Park announcing the event as use of town resources.

Post’s four-page letter uses numerous court citations related to separation of church and state. She concludes:

“The town has communicated the message that the government endorses prayer and encourages its citizens to engage in it. That is taking sides on a matter of religious belief.

“We request that you take immediate action to rectify past violations and to prevent future violations. The city must withdraw support from the prayer event, issue no more proclamation, and spend no taxpayer dollars on prayer events.”

Post asked for a response regarding the steps the town was taking to address the cited violations.

No action was taken by the town after receiving Post’s letter prior to the event, nor had the town responded to the letter, which was also sent to all members of the Council.

Since the discussion June 1 took place during the call to the public the council could not respond to an item not on the regular agenda.

Post acknowledged the restrictions of the open meeting laws, but did ask for a follow-up response.