Atheists sue Pismo Beach over city chaplain
November 5, 2013
In connection with Atheists United San Luis Obispo, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes separation of church and state, sued Pismo Beach last week over its use of a city chaplain. [Tribune]
The lawsuit, filed in San Luis Obispo Superior Court Friday, alleges that Rev. Paul E. Jones, the city’s chaplain, is illegally promoting Christianity during invocations before council meetings. The suit calls for the elimination of both the chaplain position and the practice of praying before meetings.
“What we’re looking for is a judge to tell them to knock it off,” Atheists United San Luis Obispo spokesman David Leidner told the Tribune.
In 2003, the council passed a policy prohibiting sectarian invocations. The council adopted the policy to comply with an appellate ruling that municipal prayer sessions cannot include sectarian deities, such as Jesus Christ.
City Attorney David Fleishman says that Jones, who is affiliated with the Pentecostal Four Square Church, has complied with the policy. But, the suit alleges that Jones has made several Christian references, including “Our Father in Heaven,” “Our Eternal God” and “God, Our Father.”
It also alleges that between Jan. 1, 2008 and Oct. 15, 2013, Christian clergymen delivered 123 of the 126 prayers. Jones delivered 112 of the invocations.
Jones’s Christian references suggest to non-Christians that they are “outsiders at council meetings, are unrepresented in their government and are not full citizens,” the suit states.