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Rabbi protests Christian prayer given at northern Arizona city council meeting

PHOENIX — One week after the Phoenix City Council switched from a prayer invocation to a moment of silence to open its council meetings, controversy over prayers has brewed in another Arizona community.

Adele Plotkin, a rabbi with the Beit Torah Jewish Congregation, was asked to leave a Chino Valley council meeting on Feb. 9 after complaining that Mayor Chris Marley gave a Christian prayer at the meeting. She said she is against the prayer being given “in Jesus’ name.”

“A woman from the school board raised the objection to having all of the invocations in the name of a certain Jewish rabbi,” Plotkin said, referring to the rabbi as Jesus Christ.

Marley, who is also an associate pastor of Miller Valley Baptist Church, said his Christian faith tells him that he must pray that way.

“Jesus was pretty plain,” he said. “(Jesus) says if you pray, ask the Father for anything in my name. It will be granted.”

After the comments made by Plotkin, Marley said he took it upon himself to open the council meeting with a moment of silence until the council could decide what to do for the invocation.

Marley said many of the council members were upset with him for doing that, including Councilman Lon Turner.

“In essence, what Mr. Turner said was that our forefathers had paid in blood for the freedom to be able pray according to the dictates of our conscience,” he said. “He felt that it was his right, or, theoretically, our right, to be able to pray as we wish.”

Plotkin said she showed up after she was told the meeting would start with a moment of silence. According to Marley, he decided to lead the meeting with a prayer instead after complaints from Turner and other council members.

Marley said he told the crowd they were not obligated to stand while it was being said and that the views expressed were his and not those of Chino Valley.

The majority of people who can be seen in a video of the meeting appear to be standing and joining in the prayer, which ended with Marley saying, “I pray all of these things in the name of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

The prayer can be seen in the video below, starting at the 3-minute mark.

At the end of the prayer, Plotkin can be heard yelling at Marley that he disrespected her. Marley said that, because he had already warned Plotkin twice before the prayer to remain quiet, he had her escorted out by police for being disruptive.

Later in the meeting, the city council decided prayer would continue to open the meetings, with a notice on the agenda announcing the invocation will happen in the first 10 minutes.

Marley said anyone who objects to the prayer can leave and re-enter the meeting after it’s over. Different Council members will take turns leading the prayer, so Marley said they may not all be led to pray “in Jesus’ name.”

Plotkin said she rarely attends the council meetings, but if Jesus is included in the prayer, her rights will be violated.

“I cannot be, according to my prohibition, within a group that has been blessed by idolatrous prayer,” she said. “I cannot appear to give approval to anything that is an idolatrous practice or prayer.”

Plotkin said she contacted the American Civil Liberties Union, who asked her to keep them posted on the situation.

As for Marley, he doesn’t want a legal fight over praying “in Jesus’ name” during the invocation, but he isn’t going to back away from one.

“I’d rather be in the bathtub filled with spiders than in a roomful of attorneys,” Marley said.  “You know what? There are so many things in this life that really don’t matter to me, but this is one that does. I’m willing to go the distance on it.”

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