9th Circuit: City’s invocation policy upheld despite Christian references in many prayers

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In Rubin v. City of Lancaster, (9th Cir., March 26, 2013), the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an Establishment Clause challenge to the Lancaster, California city council’s practice of opening its sessions with a prayer.  The city solicits volunteers from local congregations of all faiths. Plaintiffs however object that a number of invocations still invoked Jesus’ name. The court held, however, that sectarian Christian references are not prohibited by the Establishment Clause, so long as the city has not taken steps to affiliate itself with Christianity. The fact that most of the invocations are offered by Christian clergy is merely a function of the city’s demographics and choices religious leaders make on whether to respond to the city’s invitation to offer an invocation. The court added that asking judges to decide what amounts to a sectarian reference in a prayer: “not only embroils judges in precisely those intrareligious controversies that the Constitution requires us to avoid, but also imposes on us a task that we are incompetent to perform.”