Atheist Activist Group Sues to Stop California Chaplain From Leading City Council Prayers

PrayerPISMO BEACH, Calif. — A prominent atheist activist organization has filed suit in an effort to stop a chaplain from leading prayers at council meetings in a city located along California’s central coast.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) filed the complaint last week, asserting that the prayers offered regularly by Pismo Beach chaplain Paul Jones promote Christianity to residents. The organization states that Jones’ prayers often morph into sermonettes in a manner that appears to “advance and proselytize for Christianity.”

“The Scriptures teach us, saying, ‘Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,'” Jones is quoted as declaring in one prayer. “Too long, we have neglected Your word and ignored Your laws. We have tried to solve our problems without reference to You. Your word is so clear, and is so simple. For Your Word says: ‘Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach and an embarrassment to any people.’ And so we confess to You our sins, and ask that we as a nation and as individuals may experience a moral and a spiritual restoration.”

FFRF outlined in a news release announcing the suit that Jones often quotes from the Bible and urges attendees to follow the Scriptures.

“[His prayers] disparage non-Christians by claiming that not living in accordance with the Christian God’s rules of law is sinful and wrong,” it said.

One of the complainants is Dr. Sari Dworkin, who alerted FFRF to Jones’ prayers. Dworkin, an atheistic Jew, says that the invocations “cause her to feel offended, disenfranchised, and intimidated about participating in her own government.”

However, FFRF is not only asking that the prayers be discontinued, but that the position of chaplain also be eliminated.

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“What we’re looking for is a judge to tell them to knock it off,” David Leidner of Atheists United San Luis Obispo, which co-filed the suit with FFRF, told reporters.

But city attorney David Fleishman told reporters that the city passed a resolution a decade ago that prohibited prayers from being sectarian. He stated that Jones is careful to stay within the guidelines.

“I would be hard pressed to find any invocation that Dr. Jones has given where Jesus has been invoked by name,” he told local television station KSBY. “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.”

Fleishman also advised that a number of municipalities use chaplains in some form.

“I think a significant number of cities have chaplains,” he told the San Louis Obispo Tribune. “That’s a very common thing.”

Reaction to the lawsuit has been mixed.

“Prayer is a bit much,” one commenter wrote. “If not at church, I say save it.”

“From the very beginning foundation of our government, prayers have been a big part,” another stated. “If we allow the haters to have their way, no mention of God would ever be allowed. I fear the effects of such anti-theism will be a downward spiral for our country.”

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