Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Prayers in Gov't Meetings OK, Says San Fran. Court

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled yesterday that the policy in Lancaster, Calif. of allowing local clergy to pray at city council meetings is NOT a violation of the so-called "separation of church and state," even though the vast majority of the prayers are by Christian pastors who pray in the name of Jesus Christ.  The plaintiffs' attorney said "This case is definitely not over."

For background on this case, read
U.S. District Judge OKs Prayer in Lancaster (the lower court ruling in July 2011) and also read Jesus' Name Unconstitutional in Public, Says Federal Court

For background on public prayer, read Prayer Returns to Mississippi Schools: New Law and also read Missouri Votes to Bring Prayer Back to School, Countering Atheists as well as Prayer in America: Hidden Faith, or Public?

UPDATE 5/13/14: U.S. Supreme Court rules prayers to Jesus Christ OK at government meetings

-- From "CA City Council Prayers Didn't Endorse Jesus" by Tim Hull, Courthouse News Service 3/26/13

In 2010, the city's former mayor, Bishop Henry Hearns, delivered an invocation that included the phrase "Bring our minds to know you and in the precious, holy and righteous and matchless name of Jesus I pray this prayer."

A three-judge panel noted that, of the 26 prayers given between the day that Lancaster passed its prayer policy and the day that Hearns gave the offending invocation, a full 20 of them were delivered by Christian preachers, all of whom used Jesus' name. That does not necessarily mean, however, that the "city itself has taken steps to affiliate itself with Christianity," according to the ruling.

"The city has instead taken every feasible precaution - short of the extra step (itself fraught with constitutional peril) of requiring volunteers to refrain altogether from referencing sectarian figures - to ensure its own evenhandedness," Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain wrote for the panel (parentheses in original).

The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held that "when a neutral government policy or program merely allows or enables private religious acts, those acts do not necessarily bear the state's imprimatur," he added.

To read the entire article above, CLICK HERE.

From "9th Circuit Upholds Lancaster (CA) Prayer Policy Despite Sectarian Invocations" by Don Byrd, BJC News 3/26/13

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals today upheld the constitutionality of Lancaster, California's City Council prayer policy against charges that it violates the separation of church and state. In so doing, the 9th Circuit seems to have taken a different approach than the 4th Circuit, which recently held unconstitutional a policy that resulted in consistently sectarian Christian prayer to open meetings of North Carolina's Forsyth County Commissioners, citing the Supreme Court's decisions in Marsh and Allegheny.

Here, the court emphasized that because Lancaster's policy takes great pains to avoid favoritism in determining who will give the prayer, the fact that the policy does not require nonsectarian invocations is unconcerning.
[S]o long as legislative prayer—whether sectarian or not—does not proselytize, advance, or disparage one religion (Marsh’s language) or affiliate government with a particular faith (Allegheny’s reiteration), it withstands scrutiny. Marsh. . . .  For these reasons, we join several of our sister circuits in concluding that neither Marsh nor Allegheny categorically forbids sectarian references in legislative prayer.
Indeed, if “what matters under Marsh is whether the prayer to be offered fits within the genre of legislative invocational prayer that has become part of the fabric of our society,” then surely, as a general matter, sectarian and nonsectarian legislative prayer stand on equal footing.
. . . Despite the differences in factual context, these 2 approaches between the 4th and 9th Circuits seem at odds. Will this impact how future courts determine legislative prayer disputes? Or whether the Supreme Court decides to further clarify the law in this area?

To read the entire article above, CLICK HERE.

From "Court: Calif. city officials can pray at meetings" by The Associated Press 3/26/13

The lawsuit was filed by Shelley Rubin and Maureen Feller.

Rubin is the widow of late Jewish Defense League head Irv Rubin. Feller is a Lancaster resident who claimed the invocations violated the constitutional separation of church and state.

To read the entire article above, CLICK HERE.