VALLEJO, Calif. --- Over the last two years, the northern California town of Vallejo has made national news due to its declaration of bankruptcy in mid 2008. But, it is a dispute over comments by Mayor Osby Davis, that is now making headlines. A November 20 New York Times column quoted the Mayor as saying of gay people, "They're committing sin and that sin will keep them out of heaven…. But you don't hate the person. You hate the sin that they commit."
This statement has led to calls for the Mayor's resignation, demands that an openly gay person be appointed to the Vallejo Human Relations Commission, and that June be declared LGBT Pride Month in Vallejo. All of this is said to be the necessary consequence of what many are citing as an impermissible breach of the separation of church and state.
"We are monitoring the situation very closely," said Kevin Snider, chief counsel to California based Pacific Justice Institute. "While it may be unwise for an elected official to discuss his religious beliefs with a New York Times reporter" Snider continued, "it certainly is not illegal. It is troubling that so many believe that there is such a restriction on protected speech."
Pacific Justice Institute is also concerned about the numerous attacks aimed at the Vallejo religious community showing up in letters to newspapers, in emails and during public forums at City Council meetings. According to Snider, "Public disagreement with church views on moral issues is to be expected, but the heated rhetoric and constant accusations of ‘hate’ is a little over the top."
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A loose coalition of Vallejo pastors and lay people known as the Vallejo Faith Organization has made it clear that they will defend the right of even elected officials to speak about religious and moral issues. Showing up early to a recent City Council meeting they took the opportunity to pray. Their opponents have decried this as an illegal prayer meeting and have urged them to keep their prayers and their views on sexuality to themselves.
"The hypocrisy is pretty thick," said Snider. "Some are asking tha t Vallejo formally celebrate their views on sexuality while punishing the Mayor for stating his views on sexuality. They seem to be saying, 'we're out of the closet, now Christians need to go into the closet'".
"No individual should be forced out of office due to their Christianity and beliefs in the Bible," said Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute. "We will oppose all attempts towards such anti-religious lynching," Dacus continued. At a recent City Council meeting, a member of the Vallejo Faith Organization suggested that some community members would benefit from taking a course teaching sensitivity for those who have strongly held religious or moral beliefs. "PJI is ready to provide this kind of sensitivity training without charge just as soon as these individuals recognize the obvious need," Dacus said.