PORTALES, N.M. (KRQE) - A Portales City Council session looked more like a church meeting Tuesday night after a decision to ban coaches from leading prayer for teams playing in city leagues ignited a firestorm.
City councilors got an earful.
"We have relinquished our rights, and it's time to say no more," proclaimed one citizen.
More than 100 people packed the house at Tuesday's council meeting. Residents of all ages used their two minutes at the podium to criticize the recent band on coach-led prayer in city recreational leagues.
"There should be no reason why a coach can't lead a prayer," said one young woman.
"I can't believe America is where it is today. It's anti-God and anti-Christ," stated one man. "And as Christians, we better stand up. Take away religion, we take away all." The audience responded with cheers.
Citizens quoted bible verses and some even led prayers, as the crowd echoed with "amens."
Most people in the crowd protested the decision by city Athletic Director Mike Doerr made after some parents said they didn't want their children feeling ostracized if teams prayed. Doerr also called the decision a proactive approach to avoid legal issues.
Mayor Sharon King, along with city councilors, stated they were all Christian, but King said even volunteer coaches represent the city and therefore can't lead teams in prayer. Some councilors voiced their own concerns.
"I dislike that it came to this point that we have to make a proactive decision about prayer when there's been no formal complaint," Councilor Leo Lovett said. Councilors also encouraged parents to pray with their kids, adding they are not telling people they can't pray.
In the end, the mayor and councilors declared there's nothing they can do about the decision because of the separation of church and state. There were those who think it's a good thing.
"You say well let them step aside, 'Oh c'mon guys,'" said one woman, who told the crowd she was Jewish. "Do you know what it takes for a young teenager to step aside and be thought different from everybody else?"
"We just like to say we support the decision of the council," said one man who described himself a practicing ancient alien theorist. "Thank you for upholding the Constitution of the United States."
City officials made it clear that non-coaches are still free to pray at games. The mayor told the crowd afterward, if they want the law change to contact the Supreme Court.
Some residents said they plan to attend sporting events just to lead prayers.
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