Chatting with a defendant: Donald Wagner

Compiled by: Molly Daly

Lariat: Knowing that at least one person has been offended by prayer’s given at Saddleback College functions and no longer desires to attend to others because of it, for example with Karla Westphal who attended the Chancellor’s Opening Sessions among other college events and now feels, “like an outsider in the college community excluded, and disrespected, because she is not a member of the district’s preferred faith,”  how do you feel?

Donald Wagner: The district does not have a preferred faith.

L: Is there any message you would like to say to the people who have been offended?

DW: We’ll let that come out in litigation.

L: What is your response to Westphal’s notion that students who are nonbelievers, or members of a less popular faith, who see her at the college functions might infer that she approves of the prayer, not only adding to the student’s feelings  of alienation and exclusion, “but also tarnishing Westphal’s reputation as a teacher and a mentor who is dedicated to all of her students regardless of their religious beliefs?”

DW: She is entitled to her view. I don’t share that view or think that the District having invocations sends the message that she thinks it sends, or sends to the students what she seems to say in that quote there. It is very attenuated.

L: Do you think it would be best to have a general invocation to cater to all different religions?

DW: As opposed to what?

L: To where some people probably feel it has to do with Christianity…to help people from being offended do you think there is a general statement you could make?

DW: I think as a general matter, and I think as a virtually unvarying practice, our invocations have neither mentioned Christ nor any particular diety, or been religion specific to any one particular faith or denomination. This certainly is a general practice, and as policy we don’t focus on Christianity. I mean several of our board members who have given invocations are Jewish. So, I don’t see us preferring one religion, or one denomination, or one faith over any of the others. We give a general invocation, as has been done by government bodies since before the founding of the country.

L: What is a message you would like to send to anyone who appreciates the invocations, and would like to continue hearing them at these events?

DW: Again, the messages are for the litigation.

L: Well I know in the past you said that you do not apologize for any of your words nor do you intend to… has that changed to where you maybe wish to apologize now?

DW: No.