Jesus usually appears in council’s ‘reflection’

Turning "moments of reflection" at City Council meetings into overtly Christian prayers is illegal, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has informed Mayor Sam Abed in Escondido, Calif.

In a July 25 letter, Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert noted that, according to FFRF's information, all 12 persons giving the invocation this year are representatives of the Christian faith, and that nine of the 12 have given prayers invoking Jesus, which make the moments of reflection sectarian. Escondido has about 145,000 residents.

According to a North County Times news story, Dick Bridgman of Emmanuel Faith Community Church has coordinated the prayer program since 2005. "[W]hile Mr. Bridgman is instructed to inform speakers to keep their comments inclusive and nondenominational, the speakers continuously ignore such provisions, and Mr. Bridgman himself has admitted that he does 'not . . . go to every meeting and enforce them,' ” the paper reported.

Bridgman sometimes gives the invocation himself. The American Civil Liberties Union is also contesting the sectarian prayers for violating the U.S. and California constitutions.

"Calling upon Escondido City Council members and citizens to rise and pray is coercive, embarrassing and beyond the scope of secular city government. Council members are free to pray privately or to worship on their own time in their own way," Markert said, adding that exclusively Christian prayer "makes religious minorities feel like political outsiders in their own community, and shows unconstitutional governmental preference not just for religion over nonreligion, but Christianity over other faiths."

Markert also reminded the mayor and council that America was founded in part by people seeking freedom from government dictation of religion. "These refugees wanted freedom from a government telling them which church to support, what religious rituals to engage in, or what to believe or disbelieve. The U.S. founders who adopted our entirely secular Constitution knew there can be no religious liberty without the freedom to dissent. Whether to pray, or whether to believe in a god who answers prayer, is an intensely precious and personal decision protected under our First Amendment as a paramount matter of conscience."

FFRF asked the council to discontinue official prayers at meetings. "The council is illegally and inappropriately imposing its religious beliefs on the citizens of Escondido who attend the council’s meetings for public business," Markert said.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

Send this to a friend