By Kent Larsen
California Cities Support Appeal of LDS Prayer Case
BURBANK, CALIFORNIA -- The city of Burbank is appealing a trial court ruling
that an LDS prayer at one of its council meetings was unconstitutional since
it mentioned "Jesus." Now 34 other California cities have joined Burbank's
appeal, hoping to prove that prayers at government functions that mention
Christ are constitutional.
The prayer was given November 23, 1999 by Bishop David King of The Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who had volunteered to give the prayer
through the Burbank Ministerial Association, an ecumenical group that draws
on religious leaders throughout the city for the council's prayers.
Following LDS custom, the prayer ended in the name of Christ.
But that offended at least one person attending the meeting. Irv Rubin of
the Jewish Defense League said "No Jew, no matter how liberal, can feel
totally comfortable with a prayer that includes Jesus Christ. . . . It makes
any non-Christian feel like an outsider." Rubin filed a lawsuit against the
city, saying that his constitutional rights were violated by the prayer, and
in November 2000 a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge issued an injunction
prohibiting Burbank from "sectarian" prayers. Following a U.S. Supreme Court
ruling, prayers may still be made by ministers, but the injunction prohibits
them from being specific to any religion.
Attorneys representing the 34 California cities filed a 28-page brief
Tuesday with the California state Court of Appeal, asking the court to
overturn the ruling. "Dozens of cities and towns throughout California begin
their meetings once a month, or twice a month as the case may be, with an
invocation. Thirty-four of those municipalities are sufficiently alarmed by
the trial court's opinion to join in this brief and urge reversal of that
opinion," wrote attorney Peter Pierce in the brief.
Pierce also claims that the injunction that Rubin got actually violates the
constitution, "The terms of the judgment violate the free speech rights of
the volunteers, representing a multitude of faiths, who deliver the
invocation at Burbank City Council meetings," he writes. But Rubin's
attorney, Roger Jon Diamond, disagrees, "It does not violate the 1st
Amendment for the state to hire a full-time chaplain to provide invocations
or prayer before legislative meetings, but that's not our issue," said
Diamond. "We did not challenge the invocation in general. We challenge the
nature of the invocation. The answer is that there is probably no case right
on point on either side. If there were, there would be no reason to litigate
Cities flock to Burbank's defense
Los Angeles Times 24Nov01 T4
By Ryan Carter