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A Christmas message from Pleasant Grove Mayor Mike Daniels has drawn the ire of the Atheists of Utah, which says he's spending taxpayer money to endorse Christianity over other religions and nonbelief.
In a letter, Atheists of Utah complained to Pleasant Grove over the message to employees quoting Scripture with a comment from the mayor saying he longs for the ascendancy of a higher power.
"By sending this message, you have alienated nonbelievers in Pleasant Grove," the letter reads, "by turning them into outsiders within their own community."
In an interview, Felicia Entwistle, president of the board of Atheists of Utah, said the mayor's perception is that the employee recipients of the message are all Christian.
His action, she said, runs afoul of the constitutional principle of separation of state and church.
In the Christmas message, Daniels quotes Isaiah 9:6: "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace."
Then Daniels adds a personal message of concern and hope: "As I consider the turmoil of the world we live in, the distrust of citizens towards their governments, and the chaos of good being vilified while evil is celebrated, where people trap one another because of their words are not perfect [sic].
"I can hardly wait for a higher power to take the helm of the world and set things in their proper order," he wrote. "I long for the day when all people will see eye-to-eye and know within their own hearts what is truly right and truly wrong. In the meantime, may we all do our best to bring peace to our community, to resolve misunderstandings, to unify and to respect those whom we serve. Merry Christmas, because that is what it is really called."
Entwistle said the mayor's message was a wrongful use of municipal resources.
"[T]he Atheists of Utah," the letter reads, "urge you to immediately discontinue use of city of Pleasant Grove resources and taxpayer funds to create and distribute a religious message to Pleasant Grove city employees."
Entwistle said Daniels and Pleasant Grove should consider constitutional principles when discharging their duties. Atheists of Utah has requested a written response from the municipality addressing the steps it will take to ensure laws are followed.
Pleasant Grove did send a notice that it had received the letter, Entwistle said. But nothing more.
Daniels was unavailable for comment, but Pleasant Grove City Manager Scott Darrington said in an interview the city attorney is in the process of determining what the city's response would be.