Southern California full of prayin’ politicians

An epidemic of government prayer in and around San Bernardino County, Calif., has caught the attention of a national state/church watchdog.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, on behalf of more than 2,460 California members, has sent several letters of complaint to the mayors and city council members of Highland, Colton and Yorba Linda (in nearby Orange County), as well as the San Bernadino County Board of Supervisors.

FFRF says government prayer slights nonbelieving citizens and ignores the law.

The City Council of Yorba Linda, whose prayers are predominantly Christian, usually invites local religious leaders to give the invocation. However, on May 17, Council member Tom Lindsey gave the invocation, ending his prayer, “Father, we ask a blessing upon all of our city staff also, that they can continue to perform well and that they will enjoy their jobs and that we can appreciate them for all they do for us. These things we humbly pray for this evening, asking thy blessings in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.”

In FFRF’s July 11 letter to Yorba Linda Mayor Nancy Rikel, Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote, “To avoid the constitutional concerns these prayers cause for the Council and the divisiveness these prayers cause within the community the solution is simple: discontinue official, government prayers before legislative meetings.”

The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors also routinely prays to a specific deity: Jesus. For example, on June 28, Bishop Dexter Kilpatrick of the Spirit of Truth Worship Ministries concluded his prayer, “We thank you in your sovereign son, Jesus’, name. Amen.” Pablo Cott, Sheriff’s Department chaplain, finished his June 16 prayer by saying, “I give you the glory in Jesus’ name. Amen.” The chaplain of the Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, Raymond Gregory, ended the May 24 invocation, “We thank you in the name of our risen lord Jesus. Amen.”

On July 11, FFRF sent a complaint to Josie Gonzales, Chair of the San Bernadino County Board of Supervisors. Markert informed the Board, “The constitutional rights of citizens to participate in government meetings such as the Board’s weekly meetings should not be predicated upon being subjected to Christian-based or even non-denominational prayer.”

Markert added that sectarian government prayer is not only illegal, but also violates the Sermon on the Mount. “Christians who know their bible are familiar with the biblical injunction of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount,” Markert wrote, quoting Matthew 6:6: “Enter into thy closet and when thou hast shut the door, pray to thy Father which is in secret.”

On July 7, FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor sent Highland Mayor Larry McCallon a letter objecting to Highland’s predominantly Christian prayers. The Highland City Council does not make recordings of its meetings available, but according to their official minutes, going back as far as 2008 the vast majority of the prayers were given by clergy of Immanuel Baptist Church. Between Jan. 1 and May 25, out of nine council meetings, all but one invocation were delivered by Immanuel Baptist clergy (one was delivered by a member of the Mormon church).

Previously, FFRF had complained about prayer occurring before Planning Council meetings in the city of Colton in a June 28 letter.

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor wrote, “Citizens of all religions or no religion are compelled to come before you on civic, secular matters: variances, sewers, building permits, restaurant licenses, sidewalk repair, etc. . . . We fail to see why divine guidance is needed over such earthly matters.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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