Pismo Beach City Council Settles Lawsuit by Stopping Sectarian Prayers at Meetings & Abolishing Chaplain Position

Since 2008, Pismo Beach City Council in California has had explicitly Christian invocation prayers at meetings. In fact, when the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit against them last year, sectarian prayers had been a part of 125 of the previous 126 meetings. The only exception involved the city’s Chaplain Paul Jones reciting the religious Pledge of Allegiance.

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

This wasn’t just a frivolous matter. Remember: The Supreme Court will soon weigh in on the issue of sectarian prayers at city council meetings — that’s how serious it is. The Pismo council members may have gotten away with it if they stuck to a generic “God,” but their goal was to promote Jesus at all costs. (It didn’t help that some of the prayers included David Barton-esque historical revisionism.)

Well, there’s now a happy ending to the story.

On Tuesday night, the City Council voted to stop their prayers at meetings, eliminate the city chaplain position, and pay the plaintiffs (including Dr. Sari Dworkin, an FFRF member and a member of Atheists United of San Luis Obispo) $47,500 for attorney’s fees in a court-ordered settlement. (Dworkin and the FFRF, not doing this for money, will only get $1 each.)

We’re getting everything we asked for,” Atheists United board member David Leidner said Wednesday morning.

“I think what it means first and foremost is we have a government that is welcoming to all of its citizens,” he added. “And it also means that we have protected the separation between church and state in our county.”

Leidner said that an opening prayer was not held at the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting — a notable change, since the invocation had often been given by the city’s official chaplain, the Rev. Paul E. Jones.

That’s $47,000 of taxpayer money the city council just wasted because they couldn’t keep their religion to themselves. If I lived in Pismo Beach, I would be furious. Sadly, the comments at one website are mostly directed at FFRF and Americans United for having the audacity to uphold the state law.

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.


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