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Lancaster mayor stirs religious controversy

February 1, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
A Muslim group is fighting back after Lancaster's mayor claimed the city is a Christian community. They said that his remarks violate the constitution's guarantee of the separation of church and state. "What I am attempting to convey is that we are a Christian city," said Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris.

The mayor was at the San Bernardino County courthouse in Victorville, where he is trying a case Monday. In his state of the city address last week, he described Lancaster as a Christian city in front of an audience that had more than 100 clergy.

"We are a growing Christian community and don't let anybody shy away from that. I need Lancaster residents standing up and saying we are a Christian community and we're proud of it," he said in his speech.

"In a Christian city, neighbors love their neighbors regardless of where they came from, regardless of their faith, regardless of their identity, regardless of any of those things, we are to love them. That's really all I was attempting to convey," said Parris.

A spokesperson for the Council of American Islamic Relations said that the civil rights group will file a complaint against the mayor with the Department of Justice.

"And to conduct and inquiry and see if he violated any laws of the constitution of the United States," said Munira Syeda of the Council of American Islamic Relations (CARE).

The mayor has his supporters as well as critics.

"There is a huge Jewish community here, there is a Muslim community, and really he interacts with all those people, so it's very interesting," said Maria Elena Grada, a Lancaster resident.

"There is so much crime and drug dealers and everything in this city. There's a lot of Christian people here, but it's not like what he's saying," said Otis Edwards, another Lancaster resident.

But does the mayor owe anyone an apology for what he said?

"Absolutely not, absolutely not," said Parris.

And about the Council of American Islamic Relations, Parris said, "This is a radical Muslim group that is tied to terrorists in Israel and in the Middle East, and now they're attempting to tell us in Lancaster how to run our city."

"If he has any issues with CARE, if he has any issues with our organization, then we can take it up at a different time. He's welcome to come to our office and meet with us," said Syeda.

Parris said that it's all about politics. He's up for reelection this year.