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CROSSING THE LINE
Do recent City government actions violate the separation of church and state?
We appreciate the strong faith that some community members have and that is evident in some members of Council. However, we are concerned that lines are being crossed which would cause 29 Palms residents who are not conservative or evangelical Christians to feel that they are not welcome at Council meetings or in our City.
This editorial is prompted by the posting of a prayer breakfast announcement on official City of Twentynine Palms social media. Of course it is acceptable for the City to promote a prayer breakfast featuring the Mayor on its social media. It is not acceptable to do that with City branded design, and with the City seal. Using those elements implies City sponsorship and endorsement.
Additionally, the March 28 invocation given by Pastor Mike Maddy of Shadow Mountain Community Church was not the general spiritual guidance expected. Instead, it was a sermon promoting evangelical Christian briefs which honored the dismissal of indigenous belief systems and the conversion of indigenous people to Christian beliefs.
Per City Manager Frank Luckino, all invocations are being drawn from the same source— the Twentynine Palms Ministerial Association. While the website claims, “Our volunteers and support come from a wide range of spiritual and religious beliefs”, all of the religious institutions listed are Christian denominations.
In 2014, the Supreme Court affirmed the right of local governments to open meetings with a non-secular invocation. However, that does not mean that community members cannot request more variety in the perspective of the invocations.
We believe that the City endorsed announcement for the prayer breakfast, the recent non-secular Council invocations, and the Easter sunrise service on City property, when taken in totality, demonstrates City government endorsement of one belief system and violates the separation of church and state so crucial to the formation of our country.
Of course, we respect the right of Council members to express their faith. However, doesn’t the City government need to respect residents who do not share the same faith and remain neutral regarding the promotion of any specific set of beliefs?
We are asking that City government take the following actions:
Adopt guidelines for City Council invocations to ensure that they are non-secular and draw on a variety of community members- not just Christian ministers. We also suggest the length be limited to three minutes.
Create policies governing City endorsement and promotion of religious events on social media and use of City property for religious purposes.
Replace the prayer breakfast announcement with an announcement that doesn’t imply City government endorsement and sponsorship.
If you agree with our position, we encourage you to write your City government and make your views known at the next City Council meeting on May 23.
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