Last week, the mayor of Lancaster, R. Rex Parris, declared in his State of the City address that Lancaster was an up and coming "Christian community," and the residents of the city should be proud of that and work to make this a great reality. Maybe the mayor forgot that he was elected by all of the people of the city, including many Muslims and Jews. Maybe the mayor forgot that this is the United States of America, where elected officials, at least openly and in major addresses, cannot promote a specific religious outlook. This is not to say that our elected officials don't cross that line all of the time, which is difficult for us folks who not a part of the Christian majority in this country. We are told to suck it up and deal with the National Christmas tree, the White House Easter Egg Hunt, officials who pray before meetings in the name of Jesus, etc. But, when an elected official calls for his city to be a "Christian community," that is just over the line. Here is a link to a short piece about the story in the LA Times, followed by a statement that I released yesterday about this situation.
As a clergy person and proud American citizen, I am appalled and dismayed by the brazen and overt display of religious intolerance that the Mayor of Lancaster and a member of their city council have recently exhibited in calling for their city to be a "Christian community." We live in the United States of America, predicated on the notion of separation of church and state, the notion that all religions have the right to practice freely without coercion or threats from the government. The insensitivity shown by these city leaders cannot be allowed to go unnoticed and unchallenged.
There are proud Jews and Muslims in Lancaster, as well as many people of other faiths, and no faith, I would imagine. The gross stereotyping displayed by City Councilwoman Marquez, saying on her Facebook page that Islam is "all about beheadings and honor killings..." is an insult to people of faith, including the Christians she purports to defend and support. Calling for Lancaster to be a "Christian community" is unacceptable and should be fought with the full force of the law. And not because there is anything wrong with a "Christian community," but as Americans, we understand what it means to have religion in the government. We fled Europe for that very reason. We have failed in so many ways with the covert intrusions of religious beliefs into our civil government, and the not so subtle ways that non-Christians have to tolerate being excluded from many areas of local, state and federal displays of Christianity; yet, to have a mayor of a city declare his intention to use his authority as an elected official to create a specifically religious community is over the line.
All good people of faith should stand together in fighting this intolerance and religious prejudice. I stand with the people of Lancaster who are being excluded from their own city and call on others to do the same.
Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater
Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center
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