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PRAYER BREAKFAST ASSAILED ANEW GROUP SAYS EVENT IS A MINGLING OF CHURCH, CITY.

Byline: EUGENE TONG Staff Writer

SANTA CLARITA - A prayer breakfast hosted by a Christian men's business group and featuring Mayor Laurene Weste and state Sen. George Runner has reignited criticism that the event is a government endorsement of religion.

The planned May 5 Mayor's Prayer Breakfast, organized by the Dunamis Group, is being criticized by Santa Clarita for Separation of Church and State, which formed last year in response to the inaugural event.

Founder Bruce McFarland said Wednesday that having the mayor in the event's name equates to a City Hall endorsement of a specific religion, although no taxpayer money is used.

The event at the Hyatt Valencia will feature a keynote address by Butch Hartman, creator of ``The Fairly Odd Parents'' cartoon, along with remarks by Runner and Weste.

Dunamis chairman Joe Messina said organizers realize some might disagree with a prayer breakfast, but that the group is entitled to assemble and pray for the success of local leaders.

``People have to understand this is not a mean-spirited event, and we're not aiming at anybody,'' he said. ``What drives us to do that in our particular situation, we're showing the love of God in the community. ...''

The city's Human Relations Forum met with Messina last week to discuss the event. Perhaps to deflect criticism, the group indicated that ``other leaders'' will be prayed for in the event's name.

But Adele MacPherson, the city's community services superintendent, said the forum still has reservations about the use of the title ``mayor.''

Weste believes her attendance does not equate to an official endorsement.

``The title of the event is the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast, but I'm not putting it on,'' she said. ``I'm not using anything from City Hall on it.

``I just went to a Purim celebration, and that was a wonderful celebration. We try to support our community in as many ways as we can and show up at the things the community values.''

McFarland disagreed. ``There is no church involved with the Boys & Girls Club,'' he said.

``But I would find a problem with the YMCA, based on the name.''

Runner said the group had the constitutional right to assemble.

``I can't imagine anybody is critical of the right to assemble and exercise their free right of religion,'' he said.

``If my attendance meant that it was somehow a violation of so-called separation of church and state, as an elected official, am I barred from attending my own church?

``There are people who have honest disagreements on what they include as religious events within the public square. It's an honest disagreement and I think that's what we have here.''

eugene.tong(at)dailynews.com

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 20, 2006
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