Court of Appeals decides case on prayer before public meetings

bchMany cities and counties have an eye on a case that started in the City of Lancaster and state court. The case later went to the U.S. Court of Appeals and a decision is out on the challenge to prayers before public meetings.

This issue of prayer before public meetings came up in the City of Bishop when officials decided they should establish an invocation policy based on law and legal precedent. Courts have determined that the First Amendment of the Constitution prohibits government from establishing or endorsing any particular religion.

Prior to the City Council adopting invocation guidelines, a Buddhist man had requested delivering an invocation in Bishop. The City’s guidelines ask those who give a prayer at the start of a Council meeting to avoid references to specific deities like Jesus Christ, Buddha, and Allah. The policy does permit more generic terms like God and Creator.

In the Lancaster case, the judges ruled in favor of the City. Their decision said that “a Bishop’s single reference to Jesus in an invocation did not amount to a violation of the Establishment Clause (of the First Amendment). The Court found that public prayers are legal if they do not “proselytize, advance, or disparage one religion or affiliate government with a particular faith.”

Two citizens had sued the City of Lancaster after one pastor used the name of Jesus in a public prayer. The case went to the Court of Appeals. The judges said they “saw nothing in the record or in the prayer policy to indicate that the City had affiliated itself with Christianity.”

The Court confirmed the lower court decision which found that the city had invited people of all faiths to lead them in prayer and had not endorsed Christianity as a state religion. According to news reports, the attorney for the plaintiffs, Roger Jon Diamond, said he plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court after seeking a rehearing with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Asked if adoption of invocation guidelines by Bishop was a wise move considering obvious legal risks, City Attorney Peter Tracy said, “As I made it clear, I didn’t like the idea of adopting the Rubin V. Burbank invocation guidelines, but I have no question that adopting them was wise considering the legal risks. Assuming the Lancaster case becomes final as written,” he said, “and I’m guessing it will, there is open the alternative of using the Lancaster invocation guidelines which the Ninth Circuit has approved rather than the Burbank invocation guidelines. This issue will be discussed at some time in the future,” said Tracy.

The Lancaster guidelines do not prohibit the mention of deities of religious sects but do require that all faiths be invited to participate.

 

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Merriam-Webster
Merriam-Webster
9 years ago

Politician; 1: a person experienced in the art or science of government; especially : one actively engaged in conducting the business of a government 2a : a person engaged in party politics as a profession b : a person primarily interested in political office for selfish or other narrow usually… Read more »

Desert Tortoise
Desert Tortoise
9 years ago

The article does not capture the whole of the problem. Lancaster has had back to back controversial mayors both with strong personalities, outlandish ideas and no reluctance to bully people with a view contrary to theirs. I have property in the region and am familiar with the dynamics. There is… Read more »

Desert Tortoise
Desert Tortoise
9 years ago

The current mayor of Lancaster, and his predecessor, are both controversial figures with outsized egos and no fear of bullying opponents. I have some property down that way and Lancaster’s style of poke-in-the-eye politics are unsettling.

justwanttoseehisface
justwanttoseehisface
9 years ago

Bravo Karen and Eastern Sierra Local! The only “prayer” at a public meeting should be the Pledge of Allegiance, which honors our flag, the great country it represents, and the men and women who have died defending it. In my view, those public officials who see fit at a public… Read more »

familygal
familygal
9 years ago

@justwanttoseehisface: …”engaging in the self-indulgent and divisive act of telling us what you believe in at a public meeting (forum)? ” Isn’t that what you are doing now? You cannot have it both ways….silence religion while you go off on your rant and saying it’s only okay if you are… Read more »

Prayer should be private
Prayer should be private
9 years ago
Reply to  familygal

@ familygal: I don’t think anybody is interested in silencing religion. Do whatever you want in private. But when prayer is introduced into public matters you have proselytizing. Today we have extremist political groups that believe America should be a “Christian” nation. This automatically excludes Judaism, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, …… Read more »

familygal
familygal
9 years ago

@ Prayer should be private- Prayer is freedom of speech just like anyone’s freedom of speech….pray does not have to only happen in private…it’s words just like anyone’s words….people take offense to all sorts of things these days….just ignore that which you don’t agree with instead of trying to silence… Read more »

One, Christian Nation?
One, Christian Nation?
9 years ago
Reply to  familygal

@familygal –

Try to imagine yourself being a Muslim, Hindu, or Jew and having to partake in public prayer lead by a Christian.

Perhaps then you might imagine the problem inherent in that sort of proselytizing.

This country cannot insist it is a “Christian” nation.

Live with it.

Big AL
Big AL
9 years ago
Reply to  familygal

Try to imagine yourself as a Christian .. trying to participate in public prayer led by a Muslim or Hindu or some other religion, yes some Christians would have a problem with that, some don’t, some are … somewhere in between. A true Christian with the spirit of God in… Read more »

Joe
Joe
9 years ago
Reply to  familygal

Freedom of speech is not at issue here. You can walk up and down Main St all day waving “Praise Allah” or “Jesus Loves You” signs. When someone insists on taking up other peoples’ time in a meeting to address something completely irrelevant to the business on hand, it is… Read more »

Big AL
Big AL
9 years ago

Dr. I think that is pretty much what she said, except for the extremist stuff, I get what you’re saying though, but I doubt that she is not treading on fascism.

Fascism defined
Fascism defined
9 years ago
Reply to  Big AL

A system of government marked by centralization of authority, stringent socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism. b. A political philosophy or movement based on or advocating such a system of government. 2. Oppressive, dictatorial control. Thou shalt… Read more »

justwanttoseehisface
justwanttoseehisface
9 years ago
Reply to  familygal

You didn’t read or lack the ability to understand my post. My objection is not to prayer; my objection is to a prayer said at a PUBLIC MEETING on PUBLIC TIME in a PUBLIC FORUM (e.g. a Board of Supervisors meeting). If you want to pray, I support you right… Read more »

Big AL
Big AL
9 years ago

Dr. you had me with everything, and I get what you’re saying .. but that last comment about the bible belt .. brother .. why say that, I mean I get what you’re saying, yes religion supported slavery, and still does in some places, and to some extent, sometimes a… Read more »

Big AL
Big AL
9 years ago
Reply to  familygal

Amen familygal

Seriously?
Seriously?
9 years ago

You are so obviously offended by inclusive prayers in public, yet go out of your way to summarize Christian theology in one ignorant and offensive sentence? God and I both love you.

Pray in secret...
Pray in secret...
9 years ago
Reply to  Seriously?

“And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men….when thou prayest, enter into thy closet and when thou has shut thy door, pray to… Read more »

Big AL
Big AL
9 years ago

No that is not what that scripture is about. It is Jesus telling the disciples (Christians) to not be boastful of prayer, or be pompus of it, touting prayer, wearing it like a badge of honor for all to see. Yet be led by the Spirit to pray genuinely in… Read more »

Benett Kessler
Benett Kessler
9 years ago
Reply to  Big AL

Taken literally, in fact, the book of Matthew does speak of praying in private, not in public. However, the founding fathers advocated separation of church and state so that Americans could give individual and private thought, study and expression to their own meaning of life, philosophy or religion. Your interpretation… Read more »

Separation of Church & State
Separation of Church & State
9 years ago
Reply to  Seriously?

@ Seriously –
Try to imagine what the Tea Party people would do if schools and public government-led meetings, gatherings, etc. were asked to pray to Allah.

They’d riot and want people burned at the stake.

justwanttoseehisface
justwanttoseehisface
9 years ago
Reply to  Seriously?

Yes I am. And, by the way, it’s your story pal; I ain’t making it up. And I love you too; it’s just hard to love someone who thinks I should spend eternity in hell when I’ve spent my life trying to be a good person. But I forgive your… Read more »

Big AL
Big AL
9 years ago

Yeah I hear ya justwanttoseehisface

justwanttoseehisface
justwanttoseehisface
9 years ago
Reply to  Seriously?

@seriously-

If christianity sees fit to summarize my exisitence, my life, and my work in three words – “he doesn’t believe” – and concludes that therefore that I should spend eternity in hell, then I do not have a problem summarizing christiainity in one (hopefully) offensive sentence. thanks.

Old Testament/New Testament
Old Testament/New Testament
9 years ago

When it comes to Christianity today, there seems to be two distinctly different camps forming: The one camp (let’s call them the conservative Christians) who view their god as the one from the Old Testament who throws people into everlasting hellfire for their trangressions … because he loves them. And… Read more »

Big AL
Big AL
9 years ago

Yes You’re right Dr. but it all boils down to .. where does your heart truly lie? And do you know God’s true heart and try to be like him .. or do you kill steal and destroy.

Big AL
Big AL
9 years ago

But justwanttoseehisface, that is religion, not Christianity brother. Not all Christians are misled or fake.

Big AL
Big AL
9 years ago

That’s not anyone’s place here to judge where you’re going .. as a “christer” .. I don’t even go there with this statement, not my place to say, I might not agree with you, but that is my right just as much as it is yours to feel that way.… Read more »

Don't want a fascist state
Don't want a fascist state
9 years ago
Reply to  Big AL

In the United States, school prayer is proscribed in accordance with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (which provides the foundation for the separation of church and state). In the United States, public schools are banned from conducting religious observances such as prayer. The… Read more »

Curious
Curious
9 years ago

The moral compass of any community starts with its politician$. I agree, from my perspective prayer at these meetings are a complete waste of time!

Moral Compass?
Moral Compass?
9 years ago
Reply to  Curious

Curious – I would like to think the moral compass of any community should start with the citizens who elect their politicians. But dumping them while in office has yet to happen locally, they know this, and unfortunately do whatever they wish. Even going along with paying some “economic guru”… Read more »

Curious
Curious
9 years ago
Reply to  Moral Compass?

Not all politicians are elected, some are/were appointed.

Poli-sci 101
Poli-sci 101
9 years ago
Reply to  Curious

Politician can be a term used in a derogatory manner to belittle a statesman. Most of the belittling occurs from the political party that lost the last election. People who are politically active, especially in party politics. A person holding or seeking political office whether elected or appointed, whether professionally… Read more »

John Barton
John Barton
9 years ago

I hope this goes to the Supreme Court. I’d like to see it settled once and for all the fact that religion has no place in a government/political venue. Like second hand smoke, keep the religion in places of worship or on private property.

Karen
Karen
9 years ago

Why this passion for opening government meetings with some sort of prayer or invocation? Why can’t everyone pray on their own time, in their own way, and get on with the damned meeting? If nothing else, have a moment of silence instead of an invocation, and get going with the… Read more »

Eastern Sierra Local
Eastern Sierra Local
9 years ago

Why do cities feel the need to open up meetings with prayers in the first place?
The pledge of allegiance is enough…..keep religion out of politics.

Liberal California
Liberal California
9 years ago

Be glad. Be very glad you don’t live in the most conservative state in the U.S. – Utah where there is no separation of Church & State.
Love that wonderfully liberal, open-minded, and free from religion, California.