A federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday that it was not unconstitutional for the Lancaster City Council to open its meeting with prayer mentioning Jesus Christ.
The case started in April 2010, when a pastor and former mayor prayed, “In the precious, holy and righteous and matchless name of Jesus I pray this prayer.” To Shelley Rubin and Maureen Feller, mentioning “Jesus” meant the government endorsed Christianity and took the case to court.
Mayor R. Rex Parris said the city council allows prayers from different religious leaders, including Muslims, Sikhs, Wiccans and Christians and that the residents of Lancaster are not bothered. Because multiple religions are allowed and there was no proselytizing, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the lower court that the prayers were constitutional. Prohibiting sectarian figures would cause every religion to edit their prayers, a practice that has been ruled unconstitutional under Marsh v. Chambers in 1983.
However, one 9th Circuit Court judge, Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain, wonders how people would react to Scientology prayers and cited the Rubin v. City of Burbank ruling that does not allow references to religious figures in prayer. The lawyer challenging the Lancaster City Council plans seeking a rehearing and possibly an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Should public prayers be allowed by city councils? Is mentioning sectarian figures unconstitutional? Does allowing prayer from multiple religions unify or divide residents?
Roger Jon Diamond, Attorney representing plaintiffs in suit against Lancaster; based in Santa Monica
Mathew Staver, Dean and Professor of Law at Liberty University School; Vice President of Liberty University based in Lynchburg, Virginia; Founder and Chairman, Liberty Counsel - an international nonprofit litigation, education, and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom.