Reuters, Sep. 9, 2002
By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A California appeals court has ruled that officials in a Los Angeles suburb cannot begin meetings with prayers invoking Jesus Christ, saying that doing so amounts to an unconstitutional endorsement of Christianity over other religions.
A three-judge panel of the state’s Second District Court of Appeal agreed with a Los Angeles Superior Court judge who ordered the city of Burbank to ban before council meetings prayers that promote any one faith or belief over another.
Both decisions came in a lawsuit over a 1999 meeting of the Burbank council that began with a minister giving thanks to God “in the name of Jesus Christ” and despite a city policy providing for prayers from a different faith each night.
The suit was brought by two men who were in attendance that night — including Jewish Defence League head Irv Rubin, who has since been jailed on charges of plotting to bomb a mosque and a congressman’s office.
The Second District opinion would apply to legislative bodies across California unless overturned on further appeal.
“The expression of gratitude and love ‘in the name of Jesus Christ’ was an explicit invocation of a particular religious belief,” Judge Katherine Doi Todd wrote in the panel’s 15-page opinion. “The invocation conveyed the message that the Burbank City Council was a Christian body and from this it could be inferred that the council was advancing a religious belief.”
The ruling follows a June decision by a three-member panel of a federal appeals court in California that the Pledge of Allegiance could not be recited by school children because the phrase “under God” rendered it unconstitutional.
That opinion stunned America and drew condemnation from across the political spectrum, including President George W. Bush, before it was stayed by the panel for further review.
Juli Scott, chief assistant city attorney for Burbank, said she and the council members were disappointed by the Second District’s decision, disagreed with the court’s analysis and conclusions and would likely appeal a second time.
‘PRAISE THE LORD!’
Scott said that the opinion would force Burbank to censor what religious leaders were allowed to say or prevent them from naming certain deities, which in some cases would invalidate the praye