FFRF warns Calif. mayors about prayer luncheon

1califmayorThe Freedom From Religion Foundation is warning the mayors of four California towns about lending their government titles to a prayer luncheon featuring a disreputable speaker.

The annual East County Mayors Prayer Luncheon is scheduled for Thursday, May 4. It is billed as a chance to meet “mayors from 4 different cities” and includes testimony from past lunches that portray this as a chance to lobby and influence local government. It features the portraits of the four mayors.

As mayors, these four public figures represent a diverse population that consists of not only Christians but also nonbelievers. Overall, 23 percent Americans identify as nonreligious. That eight-point increase since 2007 and 15-point jump since 1990 makes the “Nones” the fastest growing identification in America. Lending mayoral titles and possibly city resources to a prayer lunch unabashedly promotes religion, sending an official message of endorsement of religion over nonreligion that excludes many constituents.

“It is a fundamental principle of Establishment Clause jurisprudence that the government cannot in any way promote, advance, or otherwise endorse religion,” FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel writes to the mayors of El Cajon, Santee, La Mesa and Lemon Grove. “The federal Constitution also prohibits using taxpayer dollars or publicly funded employees and resources to organize, coordinate, and promote religious events. Courts have upheld restrictions on such activity.”

Even if no government resources have yet been involved in the planning and execution of this prayer lunch, the mayors appearing in their official capacities presents constitutional problems, FFRF reminds the four hizzoners. FFRF won an injunction some years ago against the mayor of Denver over his promotion, endorsement and sponsorship of a “Day of Prayer.”

The speaker at this event, historical revisionist David Barton, is a man government officials should avoid affiliating with. Barton is a divisive figure who has called AIDS his god’s punishment for homosexuality, has essentially “blam[ed] the Democratic party for slavery, lynching, and Jim Crow,” and has criticized non-Christians such as Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison for exercising their religious rights. Barton regularly impugns religious minorities such as Muslims and nonbelievers, saying: “From a societal standpoint, there should be more concern over elected officials who are secularists and will swear an oath on no religious book, than for Muslims who swear on the Wuran. After all, secularism presents a greater threat to American traditions and values than does Islam.”

Barton also misrepresents his expertise. He is not an historian. He does not have a real Ph.D. He has no education or training in the law or history, two of his favorite topics. Even other evangelical Christians whose goals align with Barton’s have disavowed his historical revisionism. Barton’s book, “The Jefferson Lies,” was so riddled with falsehoods that its publisher (which typically publishes bibles) pulled the book from shelves.

FFRF is asking the four mayors’ to disassociate themselves from the event and demand that the organizers stop misusing their official titles to promote such a religious undertaking.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, dedicated to the separation of state and church, has more than 28,000 nonreligious members and chapters nationwide — including more than 3,000 and a state chapter in California.


Freedom From Religion Foundation

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