Religious community controversy
Brittney M. Walker | 2/10/2010, 8 p.m.
Lancaster, CA - About two weeks ago, Mayor Rex Parris told an audience of ministers, "We're growing a Christian community," offending a religiously diverse community.
On Monday he apologized publicly for the misunderstanding, explaining he really meant the remark in terms of morality.
"I realized after talking to a lot of my friends that I've known for a period of years, a lot of people felt excluded by that. It was never my intention to exclude anyone with those remarks," he told the press. "I sincerely apologize to anyone who has felt excluded by those remarks."
Parris expressed that his comment sparked a needed healthy discussion about religion within the community of Lancaster. Presented by a collaboration of religious leaders, the Mayor fortified his efforts by accepting their challenges.
Eugene Young, a Jew, psychiatrist, and former chief of staff at Antelope Valley Hospital proposed the mayor address every religious institution in the city.
"I would like to see him go to every house of worship in this city and address their congregation and clarify his views about the division of church and state and what his beliefs are in regards to that," Young said.
Leaders of other religious communities also expressed their sentiments, but mostly showed understanding toward the mayor. All were in agreement that the mayor is doing his best to accent the diversity within the city of Lancaster.
Mayor Parris was not alone in his apology. Councilwoman Sherry Marquez also made some controversial remarks on her Facebook page in January in regards to a Muslim man accused of beheading his wife in New York. She wrote:
"This is what the Muslim religion is all about - the beheadings, honor killings are just the beginning of what is to come in the USA. We are told this is a small majority of Muslim's in America, but it is truly what they are all about. You disrespect/dishonor them or their religion and you should die (they don't even blink at killing their own wives/daughters, because they are justified by their religion)."
When her turn came to address the public, her appearance was almost missed.
"I was asked to apologize, so I apologize. Thank you for coming," she said and briskly made her exit from the council chambers.
Dr. Abdallah Farrukah of Antelope Valley Neuroscience, representing the Islamic community shared a story of the mayor's willingness to help fellow Muslim leaders. He said Mayor Parris exemplified loving his neighbor.
"I am sure Mrs. Marquez can do the same," he said. "I would like to have the misunderstanding between Islam and Christianity and Judaism develop a process of understanding. I tell you, I don't feel threatened by anybody. I feel free. I feel comfortable. I know Rex is the mayor for everybody and I know that this is just a huge misunderstanding."
Assemblyman Ted Lieu of Torrance was not so subtle with his requests. Last Monday (Feb. 1) he suggested Marquez resign from her position.
"Ms. Marquez compounded her comments by continuing to refuse to apologize to the Muslim-American community," Lieu said . "Her comments dishonor more than just Lancaster; they cast a negative light on California and our great nation, a nation built on diversity, tolerance, and respect for others."
Representatives from the Christian, and Sikh communities were also present at the press conference.
Parris and Rabbi David Hoffman of Beth Knesset Bamidbar will be working together to create an interfaith collaborative to discuss "how do we help each other grow in a growing community rather than suppress." The Mayor said it is his desire to highlight the diversity within the city.