LANCASTER -- The mayor of Lancaster is being criticized for urging residents in his high desert town to help "grow a Christian community."
Mayor R. Rex Parris made the remarks at the end of his annual State of the City address last week.
He urged residents to support a city ballot measure that would authorize daily prayers invoking a specific diety, such as Jesus, at city council meetings. Parris explained that anyone who leads a prayer in a city meeting should be able to invoke any diety he or she chooses.
In his speech, Parris said 'we are growing a Christian community and don't let anybody shy away from that."
The Greater Los Angeles area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations has denounced the comments. The chapter says it plans to file a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Justice Department.
Executive Director Hussam Ayloush says elected officials shouldn't be using their public positions to impose their religious beliefs.
According to legal experts, such a law as proposed by Parris would conflict with established constitutional law which bans excessive entanglement with religion by governments in the United States.
Parris expressed surprise that some religious leaders object to prayers to Jesus at city meetings, and blamed opposition on activists who "want ... a fight," according to a report in the Antelope Valley Press. "They want their 15 minutes of fame."
Kamal Al-Khatob, head of the Islamic Institute of the Antelope Valley, told the Daily News that the mayor's belief that Lancaster is a Christian community alienates Muslims. "This is not what America is all about. America is for everybody."
Parris told the Los Angeles Times that he had no such intentions and says he won't apologize.
The remarks come a week after Lancaster city council member Sherry Marquez wrote on her Facebook page that the beheading murder of an Islamic woman by her husband in New York shows that vicious murders are what Muslims embrace.
"This is what the Muslim religion is all about -- the beheadings, honor killings are just the beginning of what is about to come to the USA," she wrote on January 23. "We are told this is a small minority of Muslims in American, but it is truly what they are all about."
Marquez apologized for her words a few days later.
The number of Muslims in the Antelope Valley suburbs of northern Los Angeles County is estimated at about 10,000 people, or about one person in 40.