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HYRUM, Utah -- The Hyrum City Council is being criticized for allowing the closing prayer at the city's Fourth of July program to be given in Spanish with English translation.
One man wants the City Council impeached and sent to Mexico.
The city of Hyrum in Cache County typically starts and ends its Fourth of July patriotic program with prayer. But this year when the pastor of Hyrum's only Spanish-speaking congregation said the closing prayer in Spanish, controversy ensued.
If I had my way, I would have the city council members impeached and sent to Mexico. If they don't like America enough to have a prayer in English, then they hadn't ought to live here.
–World War II veteran LaVon Hansen
Councilwoman Stephanie Miller was in charge of coordinating the city's Independence Day celebration. She says a pastor, Maria Montalvo of Hyrum's Church of God Ebenezer, was asked to give the closing prayer, but she only speaks broken English and was uncomfortable speaking in front of everyone. She asked to speak in her native Spanish, and Miller said that would be fine as long as the prayer was translated.
"I don't think we had any idea that it would generate the reaction that it has," said City Administrator Brent Jensen.
That reaction was both immediate and intense.
Public letters spark heated discourse
In a letter to the editor of the Herald Journal in Logan, World War II veteran LaVon Hansen wrote in part, "If I had my way, I would have the City Council members impeached and sent to Mexico. If they don't like America enough to have a prayer in English, then they hadn't ought to live here."
Comments -- pro and con -- followed:
"Some people wrap themselves up in flag and language and think that is independence."
"Speaking a prayer in Spanish is not nearly as offensive as waving the Mexican flag."
"Why is hate necessary to be a Proud American?"
Miller says that most of the people writing letters to the paper or contacting the City Council weren't at the program in the first place. She says one woman who was there became offended and wrote the first letter to the Herald-Journal. The rest of the comments seem to be in response to that letter.
City offices have been inundated with calls and e-mails. The majority, Jensen says, are negative.
"There have been some things that are very unkind that have been directed not only at the mayor and council, but to the Hispanic population as well," Jensen said. "No one feels good about these kinds of remarks."
Some residents say the prayer itself isn't a big deal. As Hyrum resident Wanda Banham said, "We thought it was kind of cool ‘cause America's all about, you know, our Founding Fathers were from many different cultures and countries, and it seemed to us that it just added to the festivities."
Councilman Paul James said he was surprised to hear the Spanish prayer but didn't think it was inappropriate, "because listening to the prayer, it was very patriotic."
Councilwoman apologizes, but doesn't regret decision
I apologize if it offended anybody, but not that she said the prayer... We had invited someone from their church to give the prayer, and that's who wanted to give it.
–Councilwoman Stephanie Miller
Miller told KSL Monday, "I apologize if it offended anybody, but not that she said the prayer." Miller says the city has done this program for years and always ask people from various churches in the area to participate.
"We had invited someone from their church to give the prayer, and that's who wanted to give it," she says.
Miller says it is surprising to have this kind of response to something the city has done year after year. She says she feels it has a lot to do with what is going on in our country right now, with people sensitive on the topic of immigration.
"She does live in our country, and if she's legal and she is participating in our country and she only speaks Spanish, I think that's fine," said Hyrum resident Judy Olsen about Montalvo.
Miller said she has apologized to some critics, but does not regret the decision. Still, she said she won't have the prayer offered in Spanish next year.
And while some have suggested that the city bar prayers of any kind at the patriotic program, Miller said that won't happen.
"We are Americans (and have) freedom of religion," she said. "We're not forcing anybody to participate that doesn't want to."