Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Freedom From Religion Foundation announced Monday [Nov. 4] that it has filed a lawsuit against Pismo Beach for offering sectarian prayers at its City Council meetings.

The lawsuit stems from a complaint against the city from Sari Dworkin, a member of Atheists United of San Luis Obispo and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, in 2012 that objected to invocations being offered prior to city meetings.

“With 20 percent of the adult population today identifying as nonreligious, at least (one-fifth) of the population is routinely excluded and offended by official prayer conducted by the city,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president.

In its announcement, the FFRF claims that the retired Rev. Paul Jones has offered “explicitly Christian prayers” at its meetings for years, specifically citing that Jones delivered 125 of 126 invocations from 2008 to 2013.

The council appointed Jones to serve as city chaplain in 2005 after the number of ministers volunteering to offer invocations had dwindled to just two following a 2002 court decision that ruled sectarian prayers were not permitted at city meetings.

Over the past two months, Rajan Zed, president of Universal Society of Hinduism, and Pastor Paul Toms, of Grace Bible Church, have also offered the invocation at the council meetings. However, Jones has handled the duties at 15 of the council’s 18 meetings this year.

The FFRF claims that it will move forward with the lawsuit no matter what the Supreme Court decision is, saying it is basing its suit against Pismo on the [California] state constitution’s No Preference Clause.