Court of Appeals decides case on prayer before public meetings

bchMany cities and counties have an eye on a case that started in the City of Lancaster and state court. The case later went to the U.S. Court of Appeals and a decision is out on the challenge to prayers before public meetings.

This issue of prayer before public meetings came up in the City of Bishop when officials decided they should establish an invocation policy based on law and legal precedent. Courts have determined that the First Amendment of the Constitution prohibits government from establishing or endorsing any particular religion.

Prior to the City Council adopting invocation guidelines, a Buddhist man had requested delivering an invocation in Bishop. The City’s guidelines ask those who give a prayer at the start of a Council meeting to avoid references to specific deities like Jesus Christ, Buddha, and Allah. The policy does permit more generic terms like God and Creator.

In the Lancaster case, the judges ruled in favor of the City. Their decision said that “a Bishop’s single reference to Jesus in an invocation did not amount to a violation of the Establishment Clause (of the First Amendment). The Court found that public prayers are legal if they do not “proselytize, advance, or disparage one religion or affiliate government with a particular faith.”

Two citizens had sued the City of Lancaster after one pastor used the name of Jesus in a public prayer. The case went to the Court of Appeals. The judges said they “saw nothing in the record or in the prayer policy to indicate that the City had affiliated itself with Christianity.”

The Court confirmed the lower court decision which found that the city had invited people of all faiths to lead them in prayer and had not endorsed Christianity as a state religion. According to news reports, the attorney for the plaintiffs, Roger Jon Diamond, said he plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court after seeking a rehearing with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Asked if adoption of invocation guidelines by Bishop was a wise move considering obvious legal risks, City Attorney Peter Tracy said, “As I made it clear, I didn’t like the idea of adopting the Rubin V. Burbank invocation guidelines, but I have no question that adopting them was wise considering the legal risks. Assuming the Lancaster case becomes final as written,” he said, “and I’m guessing it will, there is open the alternative of using the Lancaster invocation guidelines which the Ninth Circuit has approved rather than the Burbank invocation guidelines. This issue will be discussed at some time in the future,” said Tracy.

The Lancaster guidelines do not prohibit the mention of deities of religious sects but do require that all faiths be invited to participate.



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36 Responses to Court of Appeals decides case on prayer before public meetings

  1. Eastern Sierra Local April 2, 2013 at 8:21 am #

    Why do cities feel the need to open up meetings with prayers in the first place?
    The pledge of allegiance is enough…..keep religion out of politics.

    • Liberal California April 2, 2013 at 11:28 am #

      Be glad. Be very glad you don’t live in the most conservative state in the U.S. – Utah where there is no separation of Church & State.
      Love that wonderfully liberal, open-minded, and free from religion, California.

  2. Karen April 2, 2013 at 9:41 am #

    Why this passion for opening government meetings with some sort of prayer or invocation? Why can’t everyone pray on their own time, in their own way, and get on with the damned meeting? If nothing else, have a moment of silence instead of an invocation, and get going with the business everyone is there for.

  3. John Barton April 2, 2013 at 10:20 am #

    I hope this goes to the Supreme Court. I’d like to see it settled once and for all the fact that religion has no place in a government/political venue. Like second hand smoke, keep the religion in places of worship or on private property.

  4. Curious April 2, 2013 at 10:37 am #

    The moral compass of any community starts with its politician$. I agree, from my perspective prayer at these meetings are a complete waste of time!

    • Moral Compass? April 2, 2013 at 12:12 pm #

      Curious –
      I would like to think the moral compass of any community should start with the citizens who elect their politicians.
      But dumping them while in office has yet to happen locally, they know this, and unfortunately do whatever they wish. Even going along with paying some “economic guru” a quarter million a year to lobby for such things as auto dealerships in Mammoth, and revamping military facilities (where is a military complex in Mammoth?) This is what our new Town Manager actually said will improve Mammoth’s economy.

      • Curious April 2, 2013 at 5:20 pm #

        Not all politicians are elected, some are/were appointed.

        • Poli-sci 101 April 3, 2013 at 5:18 am #

          Politician can be a term used in a derogatory manner to belittle a statesman.

          Most of the belittling occurs from the political party that lost the last election.

          People who are politically active, especially in party politics. A person holding or seeking political office whether elected or appointed, whether professionally or otherwise. Positions range from local offices to executive, legislative and judicial offices of state and national governments. Some law enforcement officers, such as sheriffs, are considered to be politicians.

  5. justwanttoseehisface April 2, 2013 at 10:53 am #

    Bravo Karen and Eastern Sierra Local!

    The only “prayer” at a public meeting should be the Pledge of Allegiance, which honors our flag, the great country it represents, and the men and women who have died defending it.

    In my view, those public officials who see fit at a public meeting in a public forum to fill the air with their own personal religous beliefs exhibit a profound ignorance of one the basic principles of America; and by doing so dishonor both the flag and our fallen soldiers.

    If you are a christian public offical, swell; but why don’t you simply and silently allow your beliefs to inform and guide your actions rather than engaging in the self-indulgent and divisive act of telling us what you believe in at a public meeting?

    But don’t listen to me; according to the christers I’m going to (and should) spend eternity in hell simply because I don’t buy their rather bizarre story.

    That’s the one that has God impregnating one of his children (incest) who was already married (adultery) probably against her will (rape), then sending his son off to be killed (human sacrifice/suicide), whom we later worship by eating his flesh and drinking his blood (cannibalism).


    • familygal April 2, 2013 at 1:08 pm #


      …”engaging in the self-indulgent and divisive act of telling us what you believe in at a public meeting (forum)? ”

      Isn’t that what you are doing now?

      You cannot have it both ways….silence religion while you go off on your rant and saying it’s only okay if you are allowed to speak about your beliefs, but religious folks cannot do the same…..please re-think your logic.

      And that is what our country is about…..a place where everyone can be free to be an individual and have a voice….that includes you AND religious folks.

      • Prayer should be private April 2, 2013 at 4:14 pm #

        @ familygal:

        I don’t think anybody is interested in silencing religion. Do whatever you want in private. But when prayer is introduced into public matters you have proselytizing.

        Today we have extremist political groups that believe America should be a “Christian” nation. This automatically excludes Judaism, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, … atheists and agnostics. And when beliefs are forced upon everyone (through public prayer) you area treading dangerously close to fascism.

        • familygal April 2, 2013 at 7:53 pm #

          @ Prayer should be private-

          Prayer is freedom of speech just like anyone’s freedom of speech….pray does not have to only happen in private…it’s words just like anyone’s words….people take offense to all sorts of things these days….just ignore that which you don’t agree with instead of trying to silence one segment of our population…this still is the USA isn’t it – where we have freedom of speech?

          The problem is that logic like yours conveniently applies to everyone BUT people who want to pray in public….again…you cannot have it both ways….either everyone gets to talk or no one does….you cannot pick and choose… b/c that is discrimination.

          It seems that many have forgotten that just b/c you don’t agree with someone, that doesn’t mean you can shut them up… much as you would like to….

          it’s only words….plug into your ipod during the public prayer portion and chill…what’s the big deal……..that’s what everyone tells the marriage people – “what’s the big deal, just chill!”

          anything goes these days…..prayer in public included!

          • One, Christian Nation? April 3, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

            @familygal –

            Try to imagine yourself being a Muslim, Hindu, or Jew and having to partake in public prayer lead by a Christian.

            Perhaps then you might imagine the problem inherent in that sort of proselytizing.

            This country cannot insist it is a “Christian” nation.

            Live with it.

          • Big AL April 3, 2013 at 7:49 pm #

            Try to imagine yourself as a Christian .. trying to participate in public prayer led by a Muslim or Hindu or some other religion, yes some Christians would have a problem with that, some don’t, some are … somewhere in between.

            A true Christian with the spirit of God in their heart would not have a problem, unless there is some message of hate, or something that was not right, neither would it be for a Muslim or a Hindu person, or at least it shouldn’t be, if they have the true spirit of God in their heart.

            The problem in these situations when people can not lay aside things that hamper God’s spirit, and make it their issues.

            If it was me, I would just let them do their thing .. pray for invocation, pray for God’s hand on it, or God’s help in the matters at hand, I would do the same in my heart.

            As familygal said .. it is more fashionable now days to be offended by anything and just about everything, and can not get past that. We are too busy thinking about ourselves now days, and not thinking how we can look after others and their views as well, how are we going to make a difference like that?

          • Joe April 4, 2013 at 8:54 am #

            Freedom of speech is not at issue here. You can walk up and down Main St all day waving “Praise Allah” or “Jesus Loves You” signs. When someone insists on taking up other peoples’ time in a meeting to address something completely irrelevant to the business on hand, it is not appropriate. It doesn’t matter if it is only 10 seconds or 10 minutes, it’s the principal of the matter.

        • Big AL April 3, 2013 at 7:38 pm #

          Dr. I think that is pretty much what she said, except for the extremist stuff, I get what you’re saying though, but I doubt that she is not treading on fascism.

          • Fascism defined April 3, 2013 at 8:26 pm #

            A system of government marked by centralization of authority, stringent socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism.
            b. A political philosophy or movement based on or advocating such a system of government.
            2. Oppressive, dictatorial control.

            Thou shalt say Christian prayers in public schools and public meeting places.

      • justwanttoseehisface April 3, 2013 at 4:35 pm #

        You didn’t read or lack the ability to understand my post.

        My objection is not to prayer; my objection is to a prayer said at a PUBLIC MEETING on PUBLIC TIME in a PUBLIC FORUM (e.g. a Board of Supervisors meeting).

        If you want to pray, I support you right to do so; prayer can be a wonderful thing. I just think prayers should generally be said in churches or in private gatherings, but not at PUBLIC assemblages, for which the PUBLIC is footing the bill.

        Thanks and Peace to you all.

        P.S. The Bible Belt held up slavery’s trousers.

        • Big AL April 3, 2013 at 7:59 pm #

          Dr. you had me with everything, and I get what you’re saying .. but that last comment about the bible belt .. brother .. why say that, I mean I get what you’re saying, yes religion supported slavery, and still does in some places, and to some extent, sometimes a great extent.

          But what I continue to advocate, just as you advocate against racism, is that .. how are we going to get past it. when we have to remind with such .. “oh by the way” comments that call attention to it when it really has not been about that subject in this thread.

          I mean .. if we throw that in people’s faces, then what else can they see? God and faith is not about racism .. yes racism does get supported by “Religion” True faith in God, and a relationship with God should produce feelings of loving one’s neighbor, not enslave him or her. But sometimes it does produce that, but that is only certain individuals.

      • Big AL April 3, 2013 at 7:35 pm #

        Amen familygal

    • Seriously? April 2, 2013 at 7:39 pm #

      You are so obviously offended by inclusive prayers in public, yet go out of your way to summarize Christian theology in one ignorant and offensive sentence? God and I both love you.

      • Pray in secret... April 3, 2013 at 1:08 pm #

        “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men….when thou prayest, enter into thy closet and when thou has shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret….”

        Matthew 6:5-6:

        Public prayer can be offensive who are not interested in being preached to publicly.

        • Big AL April 3, 2013 at 8:08 pm #

          No that is not what that scripture is about. It is Jesus telling the disciples (Christians) to not be boastful of prayer, or be pompus of it, touting prayer, wearing it like a badge of honor for all to see.

          Yet be led by the Spirit to pray genuinely in your heart, being humble and only talking to God, and being filled with the Spirit.

          In some cases of public prayer it is good for some to voice prayer for others who are like minded, this is not always a good thing, sometimes it is … I mean if it happens spontaneously, then it is of the spirit, and other believers can share the koinonia as well in it.

          • Benett Kessler April 4, 2013 at 8:07 am #

            Taken literally, in fact, the book of Matthew does speak of praying in private, not in public.
            However, the founding fathers advocated separation of church and state so that Americans could give
            individual and private thought, study and expression to their own meaning of life, philosophy or religion.

            Your interpretation of Matthew is just as legitimate as mine or anyone else’s. Determination
            of the nature of life and reality is very personal.

      • Separation of Church & State April 3, 2013 at 4:07 pm #

        @ Seriously –
        Try to imagine what the Tea Party people would do if schools and public government-led meetings, gatherings, etc. were asked to pray to Allah.

        They’d riot and want people burned at the stake.

      • justwanttoseehisface April 3, 2013 at 4:41 pm #

        Yes I am. And, by the way, it’s your story pal; I ain’t making it up. And I love you too; it’s just hard to love someone who thinks I should spend eternity in hell when I’ve spent my life trying to be a good person. But I forgive your hatred of me anyway; pagans are like that.

        • Big AL April 3, 2013 at 8:10 pm #

          Yeah I hear ya justwanttoseehisface

      • justwanttoseehisface April 3, 2013 at 5:16 pm #


        If christianity sees fit to summarize my exisitence, my life, and my work in three words – “he doesn’t believe” – and concludes that therefore that I should spend eternity in hell, then I do not have a problem summarizing christiainity in one (hopefully) offensive sentence. thanks.

        • Old Testament/New Testament April 3, 2013 at 5:51 pm #

          When it comes to Christianity today, there seems to be two distinctly different camps forming:

          The one camp (let’s call them the conservative Christians) who view their god as the one from the Old Testament who throws people into everlasting hellfire for their trangressions … because he loves them.

          And the other camp (let’s call them the liberal Christians) who view their god as the one from the New Testament who is kind and forgiving “seventy times seven” towards people … because he loves them.

          • Big AL April 3, 2013 at 8:14 pm #

            Yes You’re right Dr. but it all boils down to .. where does your heart truly lie? And do you know God’s true heart and try to be like him .. or do you kill steal and destroy.

        • Big AL April 3, 2013 at 8:12 pm #

          But justwanttoseehisface, that is religion, not Christianity brother. Not all Christians are misled or fake.

    • Big AL April 3, 2013 at 7:30 pm #

      That’s not anyone’s place here to judge where you’re going .. as a “christer” .. I don’t even go there with this statement, not my place to say, I might not agree with you, but that is my right just as much as it is yours to feel that way.

      And in my opinion, you totally do not get the story you make such mockery of, and I get that, no worries, but you know what, it is my right as well to say .. I think you have that wrong, it’s cool not agree with me, and I expect it. I’m not going to say you’re going to hell .. it’s not my place.

      Further more .. I don’t believe you are going to hell for saying and or believing that, I think God is bigger than that, because I believe, He always forgives, and He understands everyone’s heart. Religion has laid the head trips on people .. people have laid these head trips on us, trying to control us … God does not try to control us .. He gave us all free will to believe how we feel.

      And yes I feel .. instead of invoking prayer … because it offends some is not the right way to do things, I have always said .. offer a moment of silence, let those who are inclined to pray .. pray, those who are not .. think a good thought, or what ever they want to do in such time. Where then, is the offense in that?

      And prayer does not dishonor our fallen soldiers who have fought for this country, that … again … is my opinion, but if you had the where with all to survey them .. I am sure you might be surprised to know they feel it does not either. Again .. just saying.

      I don’t get what you mean by divisive .. pertaining to sharing one’s beliefs at public meetings, it only becomes divisive when someone gets offended and makes it divisive. Again… that person has the right to express a belief, he or she, does not have the right to force it on others, merely expressing a belief is not forcing it on anyone.

      Yes Calling for invocation of prayer, then .. yes that is forcing it on someone who does not believe as they do. So yes I say no invocation, just a call for a moment of silence, that is not forcing anything on anyone.

      • Don't want a fascist state April 3, 2013 at 8:31 pm #

        In the United States, school prayer is proscribed in accordance with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (which provides the foundation for the separation of church and state).

        In the United States, public schools are banned from conducting religious observances such as prayer. The legal basis for this prohibition is the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which requires that

        Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

        Live with it. It’s a good law. Forcing prayer on citizens is clearly fascism.

  6. Desert Tortoise April 2, 2013 at 8:40 pm #

    The current mayor of Lancaster, and his predecessor, are both controversial figures with outsized egos and no fear of bullying opponents. I have some property down that way and Lancaster’s style of poke-in-the-eye politics are unsettling.

  7. Desert Tortoise April 3, 2013 at 5:17 am #

    The article does not capture the whole of the problem. Lancaster has had back to back controversial mayors both with strong personalities, outlandish ideas and no reluctance to bully people with a view contrary to theirs. I have property in the region and am familiar with the dynamics. There is a white backlash against the black and hispanic population (especially after losing a fight over Section 8 housing Lancaster and Palmdale both require annual inspections of all rental properties, at a cost to the landlord of course) of Lancaster that, in part, drives some of this combined with a peculiar kind of poke-in-the-eye politics that makes me think the appeals court ruling won’t be the last word on this.

  8. Merriam-Webster April 3, 2013 at 2:15 pm #


    1: a person experienced in the art or science of government; especially : one actively engaged in conducting the business of a government

    2a : a person engaged in party politics as a profession
    b : a person primarily interested in political office for selfish or other narrow usually short-sighted reasons (hot+stock -+)


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