Judge OKs Prayers at Lancaster City Meetings

     (CN) - A California federal judge ruled that opening prayers at City Council meetings in Lancaster, Calif., do not violate the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.
     In their complaint, Shelley Rubin, who is Jewish, and Maureen Feller, a Christian, were "upset and offended" when a Bishop, also the city's former mayor, mentioned Jesus Christ during an invocation at a city council meeting.
     According to court documents: "Neither plans on attending additional City Council meetings until the invocation policy forbids people from referring to 'Jesus' or 'Jesus Christ.'"
     But Judge Dale Fischer of the U.S. Central District Court found that the mere reference to Jesus in a prayer did not wed the city's government to one faith or belief.
     The judge likewise rejected the claim that the city's open invitation to other religious speakers, including Sikhs and Muslims, was nothing more than a token gesture.
     "There is no evidentiary support for plaintiffs' apparent contention that the invocation policy or procedures, which on their face encourage participation by members of all faiths and discourage proselytizing and disparagement-are a sham," the judge wrote.
     The women argued that the timing of an invitation to a member of the California Sikh Council was "suspicious." But Fischer dismissed that argument, noting that the engagement was arranged before the plaintiffs filed suit.
     "Volunteers of numerous faiths are invited to and have given invocations before City Council meetings, and the selection process does not discriminate against any faith, the judge added. "In addition, the City imposes no content requirement save for asking that volunteers not use the opportunity 'as an effort to convert others to the particular faith' or 'to disparage any faith or belief ...'"
     The court further ruled that the two women failed to sustain their constitutional claim under state law.