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To Pray Or Not To Pray

By Malcom Lagauche (Jeff Archer)
January 24, 2004



La Mesa City Council praying
La Mesa City Council praying

A couple of years ago, a California court ruled that delivering sectarian prayers at the beginning of city or town council meetings is illegal. It stated that a non-denominational prayer that did not mention a specific religion's God was okay.

In my home county, San Diego County, in southern California, some city councils are not adhering to the law and they don't care if they are breaking the law or if they may offend some of the citizenry.

La Mesa, a city of about 40,000 inhabitants has been my home since 1994. It is one of the cities that begins its council meetings with a Christian prayer.

La Mesa is no newcomer to controversy concerning government/religion issues. A decade ago, a court ruled that the badges of the La Mesa police, depicting a Christian cross, were illegal. It ordered the city to take the crosses off the badges and the patrol cars of the police. La Mesa mayor, Art Madrid, refused. The ACLU stepped in and after another court case, the city complied. And, it was handed a $40,000 bill from the ACLU for court costs. The mayor blamed the ACLU for taking the money from the city, but the ACLU had warned him that it would take the city to court if it did not halt its illegal practice. Madrid's logic that a group that went to court to stop an illegal action is responsible for the city losing money is quite illogical.

The San Diego Union-Tribune devoted two entire pages to the issue of a sectarian prayer at the beginning of city council meetings in its January 22, 2004 issue. The tone of the article was that those who pray are being kept from practicing their faith. Although the article mentioned that it was illegal, it skirted that issue and made it appear to be an afterthought. Not once did it mention that atheists or Jews or Muslims, or whatever non-Christian entity of the general public who attends meetings may feel like second-class citizens.

The main prayer-giver at the La Mesa City Council meetings is Councilwoman Ruth Sterling. According to the article, "At one meeting, the council and its audience stood, heads bowed, as Sterling prayed for the blessings of President Bush, the safety of the armed forces, and for guidance for Sandy Kerl, the city manager. `I ask this in Jesus' name,' she said."

I find it quite preposterous that not only did a member offer a sectarian prayer, but she also asked for the blessings of George Bush. He's not exactly a great role model. If I had an item on the agenda, I wonder what kind of response I would get. Most city councils in southern California are non-partisan and are supposed to represent the people. However, if before the meeting even begins a council member asks for Jesus' and Bush's support, many citizens will feel that they have two-and-a-half strikes against them before they even give their side of the story.

When asked why she thought a Christian prayer at a city council meeting was so important, Sterling stated, "I'm afraid, because I am of the Christian faith, and the Bible says, `If you deny me, I will deny you.' I'm afraid because I don't want to be denied or be rebuked in heaven on Judgement Day."

What a selfish statement. She is afraid, yet she never mentions her constituency. She maintains that God will deny her if she does not spread his message before government meetings. And our elected officials are constantly talking about separation of religion and government. These same officials break the law and don't want to have to pay the price an average citizen would for violating the laws of our counties, states and country. And politicians wonder why they have a bad reputation.


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