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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Prayer at City Council Meeting Not Establishment of Religion

The City of Lancaster, California begins each City Council meeting with a prayer.  After the ACLU challenged the City's practice, the City adopted an official invocation policy that resulted in the collection of a list of religious group volunteers for the invocation. The policy's stated intent was to encourage a "diversity of religious denominations and faiths represented and practiced" by citizens in the community.  
Two citizens brought a civil rights lawsuit against the City claiming that the City's invocation policy amounted to an unconstitutional establishment of religion.  The district court rejected their claims, finding that the City's selection process did not discriminate against any particular faith, and that the City's policy was designed to avoid establishment clause problems because the City did not regulate the content of the prayers.
The plaintiffs appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed the district court.  Rubin v. City of Lancaster (9th Cir. March 26, 2013).  First, the Court cited the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Marsh v. Chambers which upheld as constitutional the Nebraska state legislature's practice of opening each legislative day with a prayer.  Second, the Court determined that the City made every effort to include a variety of religious expressions by inviting every local religious group to be included in the invocation list.  Third, the Court found that the City stressed its policy's nonsectarian purpose, and encouraged prayer not disparage or exploit any particular faith or belief.  Fourth, the Court found that although a majority of the volunteer religious groups were of the Christian faith, that was a reflection of the community itself, and not any aim or practice of the City.  In sum, the Court determined that the City's prayer policy was not an unconstitutional establishment of religion.
Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink


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