Judge upholds Lancaster's policy on prayer before meetings
Lancaster officials have the right to pray to Jesus before council meetings, a U.S. district judge ruled this week.
According to information released by the city Tuesday, the judgment allows Lancaster to continue its invocation policy, which has been in place since August 2009.
Plaintiffs Shelley Rubin and Maureen I. Feller had specifically challenged the prayer that opened an April 2010 council meeting in which reference was made to Jesus Christ. But U.S. District Judge Dale Fischer sided with the city.
“Lancaster takes immense pride in winning this case and defending the fundamental right to pray, not only for our citizens, but indeed for all people across this nation,” Mayor R. Rex Parris said in a statement.
Lancaster’s invocation policy calls for randomly selecting clergy from different faiths to deliver the invocation at council meetings, without restricting the content based on their beliefs.
In August 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California sent a letter to city officials stating that the group had received "a number of complaints" about Lancaster’s practice of opening meetings with invocations given in "the name of Jesus" or containing other explicitly sectarian religious references. The civil liberties group deemed the policy divisive and unconstitutional, and threatened legal action if Lancaster didn’t quit the practice.
The city, which is home to Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Christians of various denominations, responded by putting the policy to a vote of residents during the April 2010 municipal election. The measure passed more than 3 to 1, according to statistics provided by the city.
-- Ann M. Simmons