Atheist Group Upset About Stockton City Hall Prayer Rally

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STOCKTON --

A 15-year-old boy was shot to death near California and Park streets in Stockton while his wounded 19-year-old friend is sent to the hospital, leaving the Port City facing its 40th homicide of the year.

That death is a defeat for the 12-hour prayer rally against such violence, which was organized by the mayor just four days ago.

That rally itself is now under attack.

"The mixing of the church and state, the mayor's being paid by taxpayer money including all taxpayers -- not just the Christians in Stockton. He should represent all of us, not just the Christians," said former Seventh Day Adventist turned atheist David Ewert.

"Giving the key to the city to God really over steps that bound," said Shelli Offhaus, who left the Mormon faith when she embraced a more humanist philosophy.

The American Humanist Association has sent a letter to the city on behalf of Stockton's Atheists and Freethinkers group.

It condemns the use of city hall's steps and the office of mayor for this religious purpose.

"The constitution is clear on this, you can't have an event that's hosted by the city that focuses on religion and establishes religion," said David Diskin, director of Stockton's Atheists and Freethinkers organization.

That's exactly what Mayor Anthony Silva says he didn't do.

Despite some advertising for the interfaith event that repeatedly used the word mayor, Silva he says his flier featured his own logo -- not the city's.

"As a private citizen and resident of Stockton, I hosted a prayer rally," Silva said.

"The residents of Stockton, they want action, they want results, and if I have to do that through prayer, that's something I'm going to do," Silva said.

With their feelings now known, the nonbelievers are looking for an upcoming city town hall meeting to be moved out of a church, but they may be disappointed.

When asked if hosting the event at a church put the "unwelcome" mat out for those who reject faith in a higher being, the mayor bristled.

"You know, if I would have scheduled it at a high school, someone who likes charter schools over public schools might have said they don't feel welcome there because I don't believe in public schools ... so I'm not gong to his town hall meeting at the high school.  We can't please everyone."

The town hall meeting that the mayor says he will not move is scheduled for Nov. 30.

The atheists and freethinkers say they may move to legal action if Stockton's mayor keeps doing things for the city this way.