Lancaster Passes Prayer Initiative

For twenty years, Lancaster has been a city of prayer with the city council opening its meetings in prayer. After a threat by the ACLU regarding this practice (especially as some prayers are given in the name of Christ), Mayor Rex Parris initiated ballot Measure I in the April 12 municipal elections. The measure read: “In response to a recent complaint, with respect to the invocations that contained reference to Jesus Christ, shall the City Council continue its invocation policy in randomly selecting local clergy of different faiths to deliver the invocation without restricting the content based on their beliefs, including references to Jesus Christ?”

Preceding this vote, much discussion took place. The LA Times newspaper wrote an article about it which included quotes from this blog:

Ballot Measure I asks whether the city should continue its policy of randomly selecting clergy from different faiths to deliver the invocation at council meetings, “without restricting the content based on their beliefs, including references to Jesus Christ.”

The issue of praying before city meetings came to a head in Lancaster last August when the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California sent a letter to city officials stating that the group had received “a number of complaints” about council members and commissioners opening their meetings with invocations given in “the name of Jesus,” or containing other explicitly sectarian religious references.

The ACLU deemed the policy “divisive” and “unconstitutional” and warned Lancaster to quit the practice or risk facing legal action.

Lancaster — which is home to Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Christians of various denominations — has responded to the ACLU’s legal threats by placing the issue on Tuesday’s ballot.

“If the vast majority of the community is in favor of this,” said Mayor R. Rex Parris, “I think the court should know that.”

Vice Mayor Ron Smith, who wrote the ballot measure, has said that the policy of randomly selecting someone to deliver the invocation allows citizens “the opportunity of freedom of speech, to be able to pray the way they want to pray.”

Many residents and religious leaders have voiced their support for praying at council meetings.

“All through our history, even in recent years, our leaders have offered public prayers seeking the hand of God’s blessing,” Paul Chappell, pastor of the Lancaster Baptist Church, recently wrote in his blog, “The Pastor’s Perspective.” “The current movement to erase our Christian heritage and deny the right to public prayers is not an issue concerning the separation of church and state; it is an attempt to remove God from hearts and minds.”
(From The Los Angeles Times, April 11, 2010, by Ann M. Simmons. Click here to read the complete article.)

A local CBS news station interviewed Dr. John Goetsch and took statements from others who were on the campus of Lancaster Baptist Church.

The measure passed with 75% support in favor of it. We applaud our city leadership for continuing in a tradition that is part of our American culture and has been blessed by God. I am thankful for the citizens who let their voices be heard regarding the need to seek God’s wisdom for the needs of our community.

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