A small California city has decided to strike both prayer and a volunteer chaplain from public meetings following a lawsuit filed by atheist activists late last year.
The decision to cut invocations from Pismo Beach City Council meetings comes after a complaint was waged in November by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and Atheists United San Luis Obispo. The secular activist groups alleged that an unpaid city chaplain and sectarian prayers both posed violations to the California Constitution as well as the state’s civil rights laws.
Pismo Beach officials didn’t accept liability, but said that they decided to cut sectarian and nonsectarian prayers, alike, in an effort to save taxpayer dollars on additional legal fees.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation and Atheists United San Luis Obispo also successfully sought the removal of the Rev. Paul Jones from his volunteer chaplaincy post.
Jones, a Pentecostal pastor, had been Pismo Beach’s chaplain since 2005 and the atheist groups charged that he had been leading mostly Christian prayers from 2008-2013.
In sum, they claimed the preacher had delivered 112 of the 126 prayers during council meetings between Jan. 1, 2008 and Oct. 15, 2013. Aside from one invocation, these prayer were purportedly delivered in the name of Christianity.
“We’re getting everything we asked for. I think what it means first and foremost is we have a government that is welcoming to all of its citizens,” Atheists United board member David Leidner told the San Luis Obispo Tribune last week. “And it also means that we have protected the separation between church and state in our county.”
As part of a settlement, which will need to be approved by a San Luis Obispo Superior Court judge, the city will reportedly pay $1 to each of the two plaintiffs as well as $47,500 in the plaintiffs’ legal fees
This development comes as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to weigh in on the unrelated Town of Greece v. Galloway public prayer case, a contentious First Amendment battle that could set major precedent surrounding the issue of invocations at public meetings.
(H/T: Christian Post)