News that a Hindu man would travel to Bishop to deliver the invocation before the next Bishop City Council meeting led to passage of new invocation guidelines that had been under consideration. Rajan Zed will offer a Sanskrit prayer and interpretation next Monday, August 13. The City’s new guidelines may make all invocations more general and less about specific religions.
With new invocation restrictions officially approved by the Bishop City Council, Mayor Dave Stottlemyre said he wanted to emphasize that the City is “open to invocations by all religions and all faiths.” The newly adopted guidelines, prepared by City Attorney Peter Tracy, respond to court cases dealing with the topic. Case law has indicated that any legislative prayer that proselytizes or advances one religious belief or faith or disparages another, violates the First Amendment of the Constitution.
Attorney Tracy came up with guidelines for Bishop which ask anyone delivering an invocation to avoid references to a particular deity, to avoid reference to any religious holiday, to avoid any reference to a particular religious sect. The entire guidelines are posted on our website.
Rajan Zed of Reno, Nevada, self-described as a Hindu Statesman, has offered invocations at numerous city council meetings in the West and before the U.S. Senate. Asked if Mr. Zed’s request to perform an invocation caused passage of the guidelines, Bishop City Administrator Keith Caldwell said, “We have been looking at this for awhile. We wanted to make sure we were doing this correctly.” Did Mr. Zed’s request prompt the official guidelines? Caldwell said, “Certainly, he moved us forward.”
One local religious leader, First United Methodist Church Pastor Kathleen Puntar of Bishop reviewed the guidelines and said she appreciates the City’s willingness to continue with invocations. Some places, she said, have discontinued them. Pastor Puntar called it a challenging, balancing act – freedom of religion and speech versus separation of church and state along with a variety of faiths.
The Pastor pointed out that the Supreme Court did not outlaw invocations, just sectarian ones. Will the City of Bishop’s new guidelines alter her invocations? Pastor Puntar said it might tweak them a little bit. “Even if I use the word God or Creator,” she said, “I know who I’m praying to.” She said in public forums, she tends to use broader references to God. The Pastor also said disparagement of other faiths is not appropriate. She said with the recent shootings at the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, it is important to work against “so much hatred and violence and work for greater understanding.”
TEXT OF GUIDELINES:
City of Bishop
Guidelines for Invocations at City Meetings
The City does not intend to proselytize or advance any faith or belief. Neither the City, nor the City Council, endorses any particular religious belief or form of invocation. In accord with California court decisions,* we must advise you that sectarian prayers in City meetings are
prohibited by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
Prayers are allowed, as long as “there is no indication that the prayer opportunity has been exploited to proselytize or advance any one faith, or to disparage any other, faith or belief.”
Please follow the guidelines below in delivering invocations at City meetings:
• Avoid references to a particular deity (such as Jesus Christ, Buddha, Allah, or “Our
Father in Heaven”). More generic and inclusive terms, such as “God,” “Holy One,”
and “Creator” are acceptable.
• Avoid reference to any particular religious holiday, significant date, holy day, or
• Refrain from reading or quoting from any sectarian book, doctrine, or other material.
• Refrain from any reference to a particular religion or religious sect.
• Avoid using any other sectarian words or concepts that could reasonably be viewed as
advancing or favoring one religion over another.
• The invocation need not be a prayer. The invocation may speak to a theme of
thanksgiving, gratitude, enlightenment, guidance, etc.
• Legislative invocations involving nonsectarian requests for wisdom and solemnity, as
well as calls for divine blessings on the work of the legislative body are encouraged.
• Be creative and self-expressive while respecting the religious and political viewpoints
• Invocations should be long enough to be meaningful but brief enough that the Council
has adequate time to address the issues at the meeting.
• If a presenter fails to comply with the nonsectarian invocation guidelines, the person
may not be permitted to continue the invocation and will not be invited to return.
We thank numerous cities which graciously shared their already established guidelines
which were utilized in developing the City of Bishop’s invocation policy.
*The California Court of Appeal in Rubin v. City of Burbank 101 Cal. App. 4th 1194 ruled that California cities could begin their city council meetings with an invocation, but only a nonsectarian invocation. This case arose from invocations given at city council meetings at the City of Burbank in which it was claimed that invocations that referred to “Our Father in Heaven” and “Jesus Christ” violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Court agreed
and held that sectarian invocations at city meetings were prohibited, but that nonsectarian invocations were permitted.