YAKIMA, Wash-- In response to threats of legal action, tonight the Yakima City Council adopted a policy to dictate how they handle prayer during meetings. But now that the policy has been adopted, the controversy isn't over, in fact it may just be getting started.
Tuesday night for the first time, the city council came face to face with the man whose complaints started the discussion about praying during meetings. He's seen the new policy and says it doesn't fix the problem.
The prayers that begin every council meeting prompted Guillen to contact the city council and the Freedom from Religion Foundation. When Guillen addressed the council, he said he wanted to set the record straight about his reasons for opposing prayer during meetings. He said he felt his arguments had been mis-represented. "I am not against prayer", clarified Guillen. He says he's against praying during meetings because the invocations are always Christian-based ignoring other religions and atheists.
"When they were elected they were elected to represent everyone in the city not just pick and choose who they want to represent", says Guillen.
To protect against potential lawsuits, Tuesday night the city adopted a policy is that basically says they will pray before the meeting formally begins but they will continue to do it in front of the audience. They will also include a disclaimer on the council agendas stating that no one is required to participate in the prayer. Under the new policy council members who wish to will take turns giving the invocation and no limitations or guidelines will be placed on the content of the prayer. In Guile's opinion, this policy changes nothing.
"They're just calling the bluff and they're trying to see how far they can push this", says Gonzalo Guillen.
Guillen says he wants the council to remove the prayer all together or replace it with something like a moment of silence, or allowing all faiths including atheists to lead the invocation.
City council member Dave Edler who is also a pastor says that while the council wants to pray they realize that some find it offensive.
"It has caused us to seek and search for a policy that will allow us to do that not at the offense and expense of some of our citizens".
The city got the template for their policy from the Alliance defense fund, a group of Christian attorneys that defend faith speech. However Guillen takes issue with the group's other causes.
"The fact that they're using the A.D.F. which has a political agenda against gays, reproductive rights for women, those kinds of things, to me that's not what Yakima needs to be represented by", says Guillen.
During the meeting Mayor Micah Cawley rebutted that the city is only getting guidance from the A.D.F. on the prayer issue, not any other topics.
Although Guillen has never publicly advocated that prayer be taken out of city council meetings, Guillen has become an unwilling lightning rod for the issue. His name and address were published in the Yakima Herald Republic against his will. Guillen says he has received criticism, and veiled threats since then including an incidence of someone coming to his home.
Guillen hopes the Freedom from Religion Foundation will continue with their plans to sue Yakima, and he intends to be the lead plaintiff in the case.