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Father of Orem mayor laments the ‘evil’ in schools during council opening prayer

A screen capture of the Orem city council meeting on Setpt. 27, 2022, where Allen Young gave the opening prayer.
City of Orem
A screen capture of the Orem city council meeting on Setpt. 27, 2022, where Allen Young gave the opening prayer.

The father of Orem’s mayor said “evil things” are being taught in schools as he gave the opening prayer at a city council meeting. Some teachers felt hurt by the slight and worried over the invocation’s direct references to the potential Alpine School District split.

Allen Young opened Orem’s Sept. 27 meeting by offering gratitude for the United States of America and then turned his attention to schools.

“It wasn’t that way when our children were in school,” said the 93-year-old father of Mayor David Young. “They didn’t have to fight the evil things that are being said and done and taught in the school system.”

He continued, saying there was an opportunity to change part of the state’s school system and later said “so much good” could come from Orem having its own school board.

In November, Orem citizens will vote on whether to create a new district and break away from the Alpine School District. The proposition has stirred controversy, including over who the city chose to conduct an Orem School District feasibility study.

“We pray, Father, that our citizens will really put some thought and prayer into studying the issues,” Young said in his prayer. “That they make the right decisions at the right time on Nov. 8 [election day].”

Orem City Council Meeting | 9.27.22

Centennial Elementary computer teacher Becky Buckley wasn’t watching the meeting live when the prayer was said. But a friend texted her about it and she jumped online to the meeting to hear what was said.

“I was shocked, very shocked that such a strong political stand was being expressed in an invocation, which you would hope would be a little more neutral,” she said.

Buckley felt that Young was calling teachers and school employees evil and that what was being taught in schools is evil.

“The part that really hurt us was that we were trying to harm students. We certainly have students’ best interests in mind,” she said. “And so not only did it feel like a personal attack on my personal being but also on who I am as a professional.”

To her, there was no mistaking that Young’s invocation was clearly about Proposition 2, the issue to split off from the Alpine School District.

While Buckley did not like what was said and the forum in which it was aired, she also doesn’t think that Young should’ve been censored. Nor is she suggesting that the city council should have publicly condemned his remarks during the meeting. Young has the freedom to say what he wants and Buckley said she is free to have her own reaction.

“But it also would have been helpful to have received some expression of support for teachers and what teachers do,” she said. “Just a simple expression of, ‘We appreciate the hard work of our teachers.’ And something like that may have helped with the reactions and the feelings.”

It was Mayor Young’s choice for this council meeting who would give the invocation/spiritual thought and who would lead the pledge of allegiance. Young asked his father to give the opening prayer and his sister for the pledge.

Mayor Young declined an interview but said in a statement, “While it is advisable for prayers at public meetings to be neutral, Orem and its elected representatives, in accordance with the First Amendment, do not limit what citizens can say in prayers before public meetings.”

City Council member Tom Macdonald shared similar sentiments in an email to KUER.

“I have always believed that prayers are for seeking solitude and direction. When offered in a public arena where there will be differing views they should be asking for civility and guidance. That being said, I will give some allowance for a person over 90 when they make an error,” he said.

City Council member Terry Peterson is upset that people are even discussing the contents of Young’s prayer. Peterson believes Young was genuinely saying what was in his heart and thinks people should not be critical of an elder.

“I've sat in a lot of meetings through the years and heard people of many different religions and beliefs and backgrounds say prayers. And I've never in my life been critical of what they prayed for or what they said,” he told KUER in an interview. “I might not agree with what they said, but it's their prayer.”

No one has personally reached out to Peterson with concerns or comments about the prayer, but he heard there were comments on social media. Personally, he thinks a public prayer is not the right space to share political beliefs but said someone is free to do that if they so choose.

In an email to KUER, the spokesperson for the Orem city council and the mayor said that when someone is asked to offer the invocation or inspirational thought before a meeting, they are not given guidance on what to say or what not to say.

To Becky Buckley, the school teacher, it might’ve felt different if the same prayer was given by someone who was not as closely tied to city leadership. But since it was the mayor’s father and the mayor chose him to give the invocation, it felt like the sentiments in the prayer might’ve been an expression of the mayor’s personal opinions.

Allen Young himself said during the prayer that when he was speaking of problems in schools, they were things he’s heard “not necessarily from family, but from teachers and others.”

Martha is KUER’s education reporter.
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