Mayor R. Rex Parris of Lancaster, Calif., is laboring under the delusion that his city is an officially “Christian community.” Americans United is trying to set him straight.
Parris sparked controversy a few days ago when, during a state of the city address, he remarked, “We’re growing a Christian community, and don’t let anybody shy away from that.”
Parris went on to insist that ministers should have the right to open meetings of the city council using sectarian references, such as “in Jesus’ name.”
As I told the Los Angeles Daily News, Parris is misguided.
“There’s no such thing as a Christian government or an officially Christian community in the United States,” I said. “Our Constitution is a secular document establishing religious freedom for everybody.”
Parris’ comments offended local Muslims, who have been speaking out. But the mayor refuses to do the right thing an issue an apology. Contacted by the Los Angeles Times, Parris remarked of his critics, “This is just about very few people wanting to get their 15 minutes of fame. I guess they got it.”
This is about an insensitive mayor who made divisive, hurtful and untrue comments and needs to say he’s sorry for that.
I checked out the city of Lancaster’s Web site. The community, about an hour north of Los Angeles, has a population of 145,000. I’m certain not all of them are Christians. My guess is that Lancaster, like just about any other town in America, is home to Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists and so on.
When the mayor states that his city is a “Christian community,” he sends the message that the town has a favored religion and those who do not share in it are little better than second-class citizens. This is simply unacceptable.
On Monday, Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn sent Parris Mayor Parris (PDF), explaining to him why he is wrong and should apologize. Lynn also noted that if the city moves forward with its plan to permit sectarian prayers before council meetings, litigation will almost certainly result. The city will lose because the legal precedent is against them. Lancaster will end up squandering precious taxpayer dollars in a losing court battle.
Mayor Parris hasn’t bothered to respond so far. But that doesn’t mean AU is moving on. We’ll continue to monitor developments in Lancaster. I have a feeling that if the mayor (or any other official in town) continue to ignore the separation of church and state, we’ll hear from some of those “second-class” citizens.
We’ll be only too happy to help them secure their rights by bringing Lancaster into compliance with the Constitution.