Sectarian Prayers before City Council Meetings Banned by Calif. Court

Church & State, January 2001 | Go to article overview

Sectarian Prayers before City Council Meetings Banned by Calif. Court


The Burbank City Council's practice of opening some meetings with sectarian prayer violates the separation of church and state, a state court in California has ruled.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Alexander Williams III ruled Nov. 23 that the council's practice of using invocational prayers that refer to Jesus Christ violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Williams did not rule that the council must terminate all prayers, only that it must advise guest ministers that sectarian invocations are not permitted. "The court fully understands the reluctance of the City Council and the Burbank Ministerial Association to dictate the content of prayer" Williams wrote. "All that is required is an advertisement that sectarian prayer as part of City Council meetings is not permitted under our Constitution."

The legal challenge was brought by Irv Rubin, chairman of the Jewish Defense League. Rubin got angry last November when he attended a council meeting to discuss issues related to a municipal airport and heard a Mormon church official open the session with a prayer that ended "in the name of Jesus Christ." He subsequently filed suit along with Roberto Alejandro Gandara, a local Roman Catholic activist who opposes council-led prayers. …

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