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Letters from Christian Leaders to Lancaster, Calif. Elected Officials

Letters from Christian Leaders to Lancaster, Calif. Elected Officials

Following are letters from Christian leaders to Lancaster, Calif. Mayor Rex Parris and City Councilwoman Sherry Marquez following comments by both elected officials that displayed ignorance of the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause and of the basic tenets of Islam.

For background information and an update, see:
CAIR, Muslim Leaders Welcome Lancaster Mayor’s Apology for ‘Christian Community’ Remarks

The letters are by:
Elizabeth Sholes, California Council of Churches
Rev. Peter Laarman, Progressive Christians Uniting

Lawrence Swaim, Interfaith Freedom Foundation

February 1, 2010

Hon. R. Rex Parris, Mayor
City of Lancaster
44933 Fern Avenue
Lancaster, CA 93534

Dear Mayor Parris:
We read with some sadness that you have proclaimed Lancaster, CA to be a “Christian city”. We, as leaders within the mainstream, progressive Protestant communities of faith, must take exception to the idea that a secular entity such as a city can be of any faith whatsoever.
The promise, hope, and dream of America is based on religious freedom wherein our secular institutions embrace and protect the faith and beliefs of each and every citizen without reservation. The only way for religious freedom to endure as a right for all people, is for our elected leaders to keep open hearts and open minds concerning the marvelous opportunity that our Constitution provides every person.
While Lancaster may well have a Christian majority, that does not make it a Christian city. It is a secular, governmental entity.
I will assume that your pride in the vitality of your community’s churches and a robust Christian worship presence would never, ever lead you to slight any other faith presence? Lancaster is a lovely place, indeed, but it would fade into nothing, would be a destructive force against the light of faith and our precious Bill of Rights if the city leaders were to discriminate in any way against other religions in thought, word, or deed.
We, as Christians, ask that you retract or at least clarify that you of course did not mean to discriminate against Lancaster citizens who were not Christian. We have labored long and hard to build bridges with all people regardless of faith and would not relish having our good work impeded by thoughtless remarks. We are sure that you see your role as an elected leader paid by all taxpayers as one that is inclusive and non-discriminatory. Clarification of that role would be much appreciated.


Elizabeth Sholes
Director of Public Policy
California Council of Churches

January 28, 2010
Dear Councilmember Marquez,
I write to you as a troubled observer of what has been transpiring in recent days.
The organization I lead currently represents upwards of 500+ Christian congregations throughout this county, all of which are fully committed to basic fairness and to commonly-accepted democratic and civic values within American society.
Our leaders and supporters have become greatly alarmed by comments you made recently that are both inaccurate and extremely defamatory in respect to to Muslims and Muslim beliefs. Your comments reflect a hideously distorted view of the core of the Islamic faith, which we know by both study and experience to be richly humanistic, fully inclusive, and not at all contemptuous of universally-accepted human rights principles.
It is undoubtedly the case that there are Islamic extremists in the world who adhere to horrific and contemptible beliefs. But will you really judge a noble faith that is owned and observed by over 1.3 billion persons by the views of these objectionable few? You may as well judge all of the world’s Christian believers according to the views of those Christians who really do hate women–or who murder others while claiming that Almighty God approves of their murderous intentions.
Your comments have needlessly stirred up a mighty storm of indignation and revulsion within the interfaith community. I join many interfaith partners in appealing to you to acknowledge that your statements were ill-considered, and I urge you to seek to mend the grievous damage that has been done to our common and religiously-mandated need to love and understand our neighbors as we love seek to understand ourselves.
Yours truly,
Rev. Peter Laarman
Executive Director
Progressive Christians Uniting

Religious Liberty is a Core American Value
Religion is a powerful force in American life, one that can motivate people to achieve excellence in public life. Once elected, however, use of government by public servants to promote or to inhibit a particular religion is prohibited by the US Constitution. Thus we would like to respectfully suggest that Mayor R. Rex Parris, of Lancaster, reconsider the use of his political office to promote a particular religion, as he appeared to do in his State of the City address.
While Mr. Parris is free to talk about Christianity as shaping his values as a person, to advocate government as a force promoting a particular theology is counter-productive and unconstitutional. People of many religions live in Lancaster—Jews, Sikhs, Muslims and people of no religious affiliation. It is also home for many Christians—including Catholic, Protestant and Evangelical churches—that do not wish their faith to be used to create divisions, to promote tribal politics, or to generate animosity against religious minorities.
Recent Facebook postings by Councilwoman Sherry Marquez demonizing all Muslims are also a matter of concern. One hundred years ago, Europeans demonized all Jews, and it led to the Holocaust, history’s greatest crime, and sparked a war that left Europe in ruins. Americans will not go down the road of religious bigotry. We know very well that there are good and bad people in all groups, and that those who portray one group as completely bad are usually out for themselves.
The hard-working people of Lancaster deserve better. Parents drive long distances to pursue the American dream, and they want a better world for their children. Services are needed, and community-building should be a priority. This is not a time to listen to the voices of hate and division, but a time to re-affirm religious and political pluralism as the basis of democracy, to make both the Antelope Valley and the country a better place.

Lawrence Swaim
Executive Director
Interfaith Freedom Foundation


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