H-PISMO BEACH

Nov 6, 2013 2:40 AM by Connie Tran, KSBY News

Pismo Beach city council gets sued for saying prayers before meetings

A religious watchdog group has filed a lawsuit against the city of Pismo Beach for allowing prayers of a specific denomination before city council meetings. The group Freedom From Religion Foundation said the prayers promote Christianity, and disparage non-Christians.

Freedom From Religion Foundation said the invocations, given by Reverend Paul Jones, violates the California constitution. The group claims in the lawsuit that the invocation coerced and forced Pismo Beach citizens to undergo Christian worship if they wished to participate in their city government. But, the city said there is no viable lawsuit. City attorney Dave Fleishman said since the city passed a policy in 2003 that all invocations have to be non-sectarian, they've followed closely to that.

"I would be hard pressed to find any invocation that Dr. Jones has given where Jesus has been invoked by name. There have been one or two, but it hasn't been Dr. Jones. And, Dr. Jones has been very good about making his invocations non-sectarian in nature," said Fleishman.

The local atheist group, Atheists United San Luis Obispo, said they support Freedom From Religion Foundation and has been helping them prepare the lawsuit for more than a year.

David Leidner, a board member with Atheist United SLO said, "A year and a half ago, we asked them to stop these prayers, Atheists United asked them, also one of our members who's a Pismo Beach resident, asked them and then the Freedom From Religion Foundation asked them, but we go no response, so now we're asking the courts."

Freedom from Religion Foundation said Rev. Jones has delivered more than 100 invocations addressed to a Christian god.

At Tuesday nights meeting, Rev. Jones said in his invocation, "Our Heavenly Father", "But our hearts and minds are tuned to God in child-like trust, God the Invisible enables us to complete any assignment", and "This invocation we pray in the name of our loving Lord". He ended the invocation with an "amen".

Atheist United SLO said they simply want no more city chaplain, and no more pre-meeting prayers.

The city said they always welcome anyone to give an invocation, but it has to be non-sectarian.

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