FFRF: Orange, Calif. unlawfully sponsors annual Christian prayer breakfasts

The Freedom From Religion has uncovered evidence via a records request that the City of Orange, Calif., used city time and resources to coordinate Mayor’s Prayer Breakfasts in 2013 and 2014. FFRF sent the city a letter today to ensure there is no similar unconstitutional sponsorship in the future.

The prayer breakfasts were “undoubtedly Christian affairs,” wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel to Mayor Teresa Smith. The city admitted this in their records: “He will be talking about how Christ and following Christ has impacted his life – duh it’s a prayer breakfast and their goal is to share the Gospel and bring people to Christ and strengthen their beliefs,” Deputy City Manager Irma Hernandez wrote of the 2013 keynote speaker in an email.

In addition, city personnel coordinated the event, including sending invitations, responding to RSVPs, arranging musical performances and speakers, setting the seating arrangements, ensuring government staff attendance, and preparing Mayor Teresa “Tita” Smith’s opening remarks.

City officials also put together the religious aspects of the events, coordinating the mayor’s bible verse selections and the theme of the keynote speaker’s message.

FFRF points out that 37% of California adults are non-Christian. Sending a message of preference for religion over non-religion, and Christianity over all other faiths, to these citizens “violates the Establishment Clause, which the Supreme Court has said time and again ‘mandates government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion,’ ” wrote Seidel.

“Given the high degree of city involvement and entanglement in the event, any reasonable person or court would interpret this conduct as government espousal of religion. Given the history, the city must cease all coordination and promotion of this event,” concluded FFRF.

“We know these events nearly always promote Christianity, but rarely do you see a city admit it in black and white! Our response to Hernandez is ‘Duh, it’s unconstitutional,’ ” said FFRF Co-President Dan Barker.

FFRF is a national state/church watchdog representing more than 22,500 nonreligious members, including more than 3,200 in California.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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