Freedom From Religion Foundation Sues Pismo Beach (California) City Council for Its Sectarian Invocation Prayers

Just days before the Supreme Court hears the case of Town of Greece v Galloway, the city of Pismo Beach, California just got served with a major lawsuit by the Freedom From Religion Foundation over sectarian prayers at city council meetings.

In short, the Pismo Beach City Council has offered explicitly Christian invocation prayers at its meetings 125 of the past 126 times (from 1/1/2008 through 10/15/2013). That one exception still included the city’s Chaplain Paul Jones saying the Pledge of Allegiance. (And why does the city have an official Chaplain in the first place?)

Dr. Paul Jones delivers a sectarian invocation at a Pismo Beach City Council meeting

These are not non-denominational prayers. These are prayers to Jesus. These are prayers that promote Christianity. These are prayers that have no business at government meetings.

There’s also historical revisionism in many of the prayers, the kind that would make Christian pseudo-historian David Barton proud.

FFRF has the transcripts (more than a hundred pages of them, which must have taken an incredibly long time) and the invocations are simply indefensible:

Tonight, we invoke your presences and Your Will to become the resource that you give to each of our elected leaders and their support staff. God bless the citizens and the guest of our beautiful city. God bless America and protect America. This invocation we pray in the name of our personal Savior and Lord. Amen.

We are aware that the greatness of America is largely the result of our founding fathers honoring God and honoring the precepts of the Bible. And so tonight, we wholeheartedly join our national leaders of generations past and affirm our nation’s motto, “In God, we trust.”

Our Heavenly Father, history has documented that the most frequently cited source in the founding era of our great country was the Bible. In 1777, Congress desired to have a Bible printed under their care and their encouragement, and then they ordered 20,000 copies of the Bible. [FFRF claims both of these statements are untenable, unverified, and untrue.]… And so tonight, we seek your help, oh God, through daily prayer and daily Bible reading that we may be able to guarantee for generations to come that we remain one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all, for the more we absorb the Scriptures and seek to live by its precepts, we discover that God is able to accomplish amazing things for his purposes through our lives, and so unitedly tonight we affirm our nations’ motto, “in God we trust.”

We ask that you will cause every citizen to perform their civic duty and vote this season. Cause us to elect leaders who will stand up for the clear standards that are expressed in the Bible, the Holy Writings of God. May they stand firm for our freedoms to live by these standards.

You get the idea. Lots of Bible where it doesn’t belong.

The FFRF sent a detailed complaint letter to the city council over a year ago but they never received a response, and that what’s brought on this lawsuit.

Among the issues in the lawsuit, aside from the invocations, is the establishment of a City Chaplain in the first place, something the city knew could spell legal trouble when they discussed it in March of 2005:

It’s important to note that this is not a federal lawsuit; only a state one. FFRF says what the city council is doing violates California’s constitution specifically so this case can proceed no matter what happens with the Greece case:

FFRF’s new lawsuit invokes only the California Constitution’s No Preference and Establishment Clauses, as well a civil rights provision. Regardless of how the Supreme Court decides the Greece case, FFRF’s case can proceed, and could carve out protections against government prayer for all citizens in the country’s most populated state.

The plaintiff in the case is the brave Dr. Sari Dworkin, an FFRF member and a member of Atheists United of San Luis Obispo, the group that initially brought this case to FFRF’s attention. Dworkin attended several of these meetings and protested the prayers, only to be forced by council procedure to give her name and address. The lawsuit notes that “after they had ignored her concerns, she felt vulnerable and uncomfortable, and had trepidation about attending any further meetings.”

There’s no reason to include Christian prayers in any city council meeting. That’s what churches are for. This crosses the line so badly that the taxpayers in Pismo Beach should be pissed off at how their representatives are about to throw away a good chunk of their money in pursuit of something that never should have happened in the first place.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • AFabulousAtlantanAtheist

    -Titus 3:1
    “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work,”

    -Romans 13:1-5

    “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.”

    That they violate the law by establishing a religious position for the city is a violation of the very religion they are trying to endorse through resolution…

  • advancedatheist

    Do you really want to finance the rent-seeking parasites who run FFRF with their nonsensical lawsuits against towns most Americans have never heard of? I declined to renew my membership when I saw how they spent the organization’s money. This kind of legal activism against establishments of religion has gotten way into the realm of diminishing returns.

    I mean, seriously, Americans live in a godless utopia already, and we don’t appreciate it enough. I think about that every time I see a copy of Free Inquiry magazine on the rack of the Fry’s Supermarket in Prescott Valley, AZ; or copies of Skeptic and American Atheist magazines on the racks of the Barnes & Noble stores in Phoenix. We don’t need to fund FFRF to protect us from the restoration of theocracy just because a clergyman in a backwater town says a prayer at a meeting of the local government.

  • Sven2547

    I declined to renew my membership when I saw how they spent the organization’s money.

    Given your continued, outspoken opposition to all things secular or liberal, I highly doubt you have ever given any money to the FFRF at any point in time.

  • Artor

    What version of an alternate reality do you live in where America is a godless utopia? Seriously, that’s as disconnected from the real world as the interminable MRA bullshit you spew here..

  • ShoeUnited

    If I may copy 4chan for a moment…

    >Pismo Beach
    >backwater town
    >pick one

  • WallofSleep

    “… Americans live in a godless utopia already…”

    I had suspected this dude was from an alternate reality, this just confirms it.

  • tubi11

    “(And why does the city have an official Chaplain in the first place?)”

    Because the US Congress does?

  • Brian Westley

    That only begs the question why congress has a chaplain; the guy who wrote the first amendment was of the opinion that it disallowed such a thing.

  • baal

    Even if Greece is federal only, it’ll weigh heavily on the CA Supremes.

  • baal

    Is there an atheist group you do like? You hate on every and anything atheist so far as I can see. That’s also consistent for your hate for anyone who isn’t you but really, Is there an atheist group you do like?

  • islandbrewer

    So, do you write, edit, and rewrite your comments to maximize dissociation from reality, or do you just pull on the foil, pop the hallucinogens, and start writing?

  • DKeane123

    Ignore the nutter – if you look at his history of posts (especially Detroit), you will realize he is not quite connected to reality.

  • Matt Ranson

    You mean you joined FFRF and had no idea what they did? They make it quite clear on their website

  • WallofSleep

    I know it’s bad etiquette to feed the troll, but mockery is still cool, right?

  • Ingersollman

    You sir, must be a Poe.

  • baal

    I read his recent history but stopped once I noticed how much AA is on infowars (alex jones’s conspiracy nutjob site).

  • tubi11

    I agree. We just know what part of their response would be to Hemant’s question.

  • WallofSleep

    Oh, that’s not telling at all. No sir, not in the least.

  • wright1

    I live in San Luis Obispo, just north of Pismo and had no idea this was going on. I need to pay closer attention to what’s happening locally.

    Go get ‘em, Dr. Dworkin. This Central Coast atheist applauds your courage.

  • JWH

    I’m surprised FFRF took on this case. Personally, I would have waited to see what precedent comes out of Town of Greece.

  • Theseus

    I agreed with the first half.

    However since I know quite a few MRA’S that are secularists I can tell you that they would vehemently disagree with the traditionalist crap that he spews.

  • pRinzler

    All of you in those backwater towns, be careful, because your rights are not as important as those in more prominent, well-known towns.

    This backwater town, by the way, is one of the most beautiful in California, it is a very popular tourist destination.

  • allein

    Seriously, anyone who’s seen Clueless or a Bugs Bunny cartoon has heard of Pismo Beach…

  • David Kopp

    I’d doubt he’s even an atheist, given how much defending he does of all of this kind of crap.

  • Rich Wilson

    Do you really want to finance the rent-seeking parasites who run FFRF with their nonsensical lawsuits against towns most Americans have never heard of?


  • ShoeUnited

    That’s all I could think about. “Pismo Beach and all the clams you can eat.”

    Albequerque is clearly the devil.

  • Edward Baker

    I think there should be NO Paid Preachers or Chaplains paid by the government for any reason …….Its the year 2013 folks He aint coming because he isnt real ….

  • 3lemenope

    Donny was a good bowler, and a good man. He was…he was one of us. He was a man who loved the outdoors, and bowling, and as a surfer he explored the beaches of southern California from La Jolla to Leo Carillo, and up to Pismo. He died…he died as so many young men of his generation before his time, and in your wisdom, Lord, you took him. Just as you took so many bright, flowering young men at Khe San, and Lan Doc, and Hill 364. These young men gave their lives, and so did Donny. Donny who loved bowling. And so, Theodore Donald Karabotsos, in accordance with what we think your dying wishes might well have been, we commit your final mortal remains to the bosom of the Pacific Ocean, which you loved so well. Goodnight, sweet prince.

  • AU-SLO member

    Pismo Beach received a letter from Atheists United SLO to stop the prayers. The letter was ignored. Then members of AU-SLO attended the City Council meeting in person and asked them to stop the prayers (I was there). They were ignored. Then FFRF sent a letter asking Pismo Beach to stop the prayers, and that letter was ignored. Now .. there is a lawsuit. This will NOT be ignored!

  • allein

    Heh, I’ve seen that movie once when it first came out and I wasn’t a fan. I’m familiar enough to have recognized where the quote came from, at least ;)

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    Thank you, that “backwater” thing elicited an out-loud “Huh?” from me. :P

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    Less than a minute into that movie (about which I knew nothing), I told my friend, “This reminds me of Raising Arizona, Suddenly, BAM! John Goodman.

    Ever since then, I can’t discuss Nihilism without giggling like a schoolgirl.

  • 3lemenope

    “They weren’t Nazis, Walter. They were nihilists; kept on saying how they believed in nothing.”

    “Nihilists? Fuck me. I mean, say what you will about the tenets of National Socialism, dude, at least it’s an ethos.”


    The line that gets me every time was the coffee shop argument about the toe that escalated quickly.

    “Oh please, dear? For your information, the Supreme Court has roundly rejected PRIOR RESTRAINT!”

  • Artor

    AA isn’t the sharpest pencil in the drawer.

  • Artor

    He seems fond of the MRA sites.

  • Artor

    Well good for them. I don’t give two fucks what the MRAs agree or disagree with.

  • Randy Meyer

    A Monkees episode also made a reference to the Massacre at Pismo Beach, caused by a motorcycle gang called the Black Angels.

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    “…Enjoyin’ my coffee…”

    I’m watching a few clips and smiling. It’s been a while.

    wmdkitty recently recommended the movie Red State. it’s really depressing, but I lit up when Goodman appeared on screen. I’d make him breakfast as long as he kept talking like that. :P

  • 3lemenope

    Goodman improves pretty much everything. His cyclopaean bible salesman was, I thought, the best part of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and his turn as Speaker of the House GlenAllen Walken in The West Wing was superb.

  • 3lemenope

    I tend to think that people dismiss a critical perspective at their own peril. As odious as some of the exponents of Men’s Rights Activism clearly are, that is not an indication of the rightness or wrongness of the contents of their points.

  • Feminerd

    I haven’t found a single MRA point that is accurate or correct, though.

    So, yeah, I think I can pretty easily dismiss whatever they say. Track record means something. I’m not going to keep listening on the off chance that the stopped clock is right this time.

  • Rich Wilson

    I think they are correct regarding current inequities in child custody cases. That doesn’t mean I agree with their methods, message, goals or anything else. I’m sure they know what 2+2 is as well.

  • Feminerd

    Oh, sure, but I can get (and have gotten) that same information from unbiased or at least evidence-based sources. The problem may also exist (you are correct, inequities in child custody exist), but their reasons for it and proposed solutions are terrible, so I’m going to give them a half-right on that at best.

  • Theseus

    C’mon Rich.

    See my points below. How can anyone argue those things?

    As to their methods? Yes, they are not too nice sometimes. and their reasoning is that for decades, no one was listening to them because they were too nicey nice.

  • Theseus

    Bull! There is no way any rational person can say this.

    Some of the main points are:

    The vast majority of homeless are men

    The vast majority of suicides are men

    The vast majority of on the job deaths are men

    DV is complex not gender directional ( the tyrant standing over the helpless victim is not the common thread), and isn’t always about size and strength (throwing or grabbing objects, destroying property, stalking and or terrorizing).

    These are ALL main points, and they are all factual.
    If you can dispute them (which you cannot) please go ahead.

    Your post is willfully dishonest in the extreme.

  • Theseus

    Um, that’s kind of a strange thing to say if you are a skeptic or a humanist.

    Are you actually denying that there ARE serious legit (emphasis on legit) issues that disproportionately affect men and boys?

    There’s always gonna be some individuals that are asshole’s in any movement. That doesn’t mean that the main issues that are raised aren’t valid.

  • Feminerd

    See my response below.

    Oh, sure, but I can get (and have gotten) that same information from unbiased or at least evidence-based sources. The problem may also exist (you are correct, inequities in child custody exist, as do inequities in homelessness and suicide), but their reasons for it and proposed solutions are terrible, so I’m going to give them a half-right on that at best. Same for all your other points. Half-right is as bad, or worse, than all-wrong sometimes.

  • Theseus

    You said:

    “I haven’t found a single MRA point that is accurate or correct”

    That’s a pretty explicit statement. None of those points are “half wrong”. What the heck does that even mean? They either exist or they don’t.

    A little honesty without back peddling would be most welcome.

  • 3lemenope

    If for no other reason than to effectively respond to MRAs, familiarity with their actual arguments seems to me to be a prerequisite.

    They teach Freud in psychology, and Marx in economics not out of any risk they are going to be found to have been right all along, but because their perspectives are important for understanding why we find them to be wrong. In the course of that familiarization, it is difficult to avoid why people found their ideas to be persuasive (which is almost the most important part), and unavoidably also find the proto-ideas that more fully formed would lead to actual productive approaches.

    And I have to disagree with your assessment of being half-right below w/ Theseus pretty sharply. Part of using a critical theory is having a primary concern with how the dominant paradigm is failing; either incapable or unwilling at recognizing or addressing that which a sizable proportion of people identify as a shortcoming as it applies to them or other people they care about.

    As such, the fact that the solutions proposed oscillate between wrong and not-even-wrong is almost beside the point. To make this point, all one has to do in this case it to look through the looking glass at some 2nd wave feminist writers; many of their “solutions” were approximately as insane as current MRA crap. The actual solutions come from people altering the dominant descriptive theory to accommodate the parts of the critical theory whose strikes against it actually draw blood, people who themselves are usually bitterly opposed by critical theorists. (For “impurity” or some such thing, usually.)

    Libertarianism is another good example of an effective critical theory that would be an insane descriptive theory/governing ideology. I would submit it is foolish to ignore libertarian critiques of the modern state, even if it would be equally foolish to follow their treatment recommendations and essentially abolish the state.

  • 3lemenope

    Yes, they are not too nice sometimes. and their reasoning is that for decades, no one was listening to them because they were too nicey nice given men’s position in Western society in relation to women, taking them seriously meant taking leave of one’s own senses, among other things.


    I would in fact argue that it is only because of feminism that MRA have a not-ridiculous framework to approach their own issues. They should say thank you.

  • Rich Wilson

    I’m not arguing against anything. Any time I’ve been on a self-described MRA site (usually because someone convinced me to click something, or I googled some name someone cited) I’ve left feeling like I want to take a shower in bleach.

    It takes more than being ‘not wrong’ for me to want to support/get behind/ally myself with a person/organization/movement.

  • Theseus

    Aw c’mon now. You of all people realize the complexity of the situation. Even then.

    Lower classes across the board dealt with an unreal amount of bullshit.

    Working class and Blue collar men also had the obligations as bread winner, provider, and protector in public and private life. This includes ( same as today) all the dirty, dangerous jobs that keep the world going ’round. Plus there was benevolent sexism at work…”women and children first” don’t ya know.

    This in no way excuse shutting women out of public life and the vote.


  • Theseus

    OK how about just approaching it from a humanist perspectiveand doing it because it’s right?

    Don’t agree with the movement? Fine. However if the issues are real, you can get behind those issues in and of themselves, without getting behind or supporting a movement.

    I find certain organizations odious but I don’t throw the baby out with the bath water if some of the issues that they push are legit human rights issues.

    So fine. Say “Fuck MRA’S”! However speaking for myself, I have two little boys and some of those issues are important to me.

  • ShoeUnited

    No, he’s quite real. Stay around long enough.

  • Theseus

    Yup, my Mom was one of those equity feminists.

    But is that applicable to feminism today? Surely you are not arguing that even so-called main stream feminism has been infected with cooked stats, distortions, inconsistent “oh help I’m just a girl” pearl cutching, and generalized male bashing? Plus, many of the self same feminists today are the ones ridiculing the idea that men actually have serious problems.

  • Artor

    That is true, but if they have a valid point, I can get that for myself, or read it from another source that doesn’t deliver it with a big steaming serving of misogyny & ignorance.

  • Artor

    Are you suggesting that the MRA “community” are the only people that consider men’s issues? Or that the movement isn’t composed entirely of assholes? I’ll listen to legal or psychological arguments concerning men’s rights & issues, but the MRA’s can’t make a point without adding their misogyny to it. It’s not worth my time or my mental health, reading through an MRA paper.

  • 3lemenope

    I find it important to understand not just the argument but the mind behind it. I’ll readily admit the second part generally ends up much less pleasantly.

  • Artor

    True, true, and true, but these are not MRA’s points, these are domestic violence issues. Can you show me one project, paper, or charity run by MRAs that actually helps to alleviate any of these problems? No? I didn’t think so. The MRAs raise these legitimate issues, but they exaggerate them, elevate them to conspiracies, and use them as props in their misogynistic rants. They aren’t concerned with fixing anything in society, they are looking for points to wage their war against women. Fuck those guys.

  • Artor

    Yes, nicey-nice. That’s EXACTLY the word I would use to describe MRAs. Are you Theodore Beale in disguise?

  • Rich Wilson

    This. I have volunteered at a domestic violence counseling center. And when men came in, invariably they would complain about the fact that there was a safe house in town for women, but not for men. The answer was that the safe house was set up and funded by women, many of whom had been victims of domestic abuse. There was nothing stopping men from doing the same.

    And I’m hoping to stop my involvement in this particular segue here, because this post is about government endorsed sectarian prayer.

  • Feminerd

    Are men more likely to be homeless? Yes. Is it because the system is biased against men and their problems? No. Because the reasons MRAs give for the problems are so very, very wrong, they’re not worth reading. I can (and do) find out that men are more likely to be homeless from other sources that aren’t full of wrongness as to why. Knowing there is a problem but not understanding why leads to “fixes” that not only don’t help, they often hurt both the intended beneficiaries and other people.

    That’s why I say half-right is as bad, or worse, than all-wrong sometimes. MRA points aren’t about problems, but about how the system is biased against men. They use and misuse real issues and problems to get to their real goal, which is the disempowerment of women. And that, that is just a wrong goal.

  • No2Religion

    Thanks for posting this Hemant. We are looking forward to our day in court.

  • No2Religion

    The point of the lawsuit is to set California precedent.

  • Richard Wade

    Look at the guy in the background of the picture in the original post. Coincidence? We report, you decide. :)

  • ShoeUnited

    It’s an argument over state level laws, so unless something truly mindblowing comes out of the Greece case, it won’t really affect the outcome in this lawsuit. If the Greece case ends with a unilateral ban on prayer before council meetings, then I’m sure the case will be dropped. If it comes out any other way, it’ll likely continue since this is at the state level and not federal.

  • Redeforsum
    This article from the Library of Congress surprised even me.