Lancaster Mayor Thinks You Can Pray at City Council Meetings

Even people not interested in the law know that the will of the majority does not trump the rights of the minority.

Government prayers are no exception. You can’t pray in the name of Jesus or Vishnu or Zeus to open a city council meeting.

Yet, Lancaster, California Mayor R. Rex Parris thinks it’s perfectly fine to do those things.

In fact, he knows it’s fine. He asked city residents and 75% of voted were in favor of it!

(As if that matters.)

That’s really the only argument he uses to defend his actions. Well, that and the argument that the lawyer fighting against him has represented the porn industry! (*gasp*)

The LA Times points out that the issue of prayer in government may be confusing to some, but the law is very clear about it:

voters’ preferences cannot overrule constitutional protections or legal precedent in such matters. If a government body is promoting the establishment of religion, that’s a violation of the 1st Amendment.

A 2000 Superior Court decision narrowed in on situations like the one in Lancaster. Ruling on prayers before Burbank City Council meetings that used the phrase “in the name of Jesus Christ,” the court said that invoking a deity specific to one religion implies an endorsement of that religion by the city government. Ecumenical prayers are thus considered kosher; denominational prayers are not.

We agree. People of varying religious beliefs should be able to attend council meetings, or any other legislative sessions, without feeling marginalized. That’s true even for meetings where the council goes out of its way to invite religious leaders of different faiths to give the invocation. Muslims should be able to do business before the council without hearing prayers about Jesus; Hindus should be able to attend these meetings without prayers to Allah, and so forth. And as a practical matter, given the dominance of Christian congregations in almost all corners of the country, a rotating guest list is going to result more often than not in Christian prayer.

Kudos to the Jewish Defense League for taking the lead in this case. It should be an easy victory for them.

  • Stephen (Math Teacher)

    So 75% of their constituents think it is ok to pray before the council meetings. What if 75% of the constituents thought it was ok to show child porn before the meetings? They don’t think this might upset people.

    What is wrong with this mayor and the people of this town?

  • Jim

    I’m sure plenty of lawyers used by non-religious and religious people alike have defended murderers, rapists, paedophiles and innocents.

    It’s their job! ;o)

    Total non-argument. Like all the reasons put forward.

  • Matt

    That’s true even for meetings where the council goes out of its way to invite religious leaders of different faiths to give the invocation.

    When I read this sentence, I was reminded of this precious moment.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZ9To30Hz7A

  • Sue D. Nymme

    What a puff piece. Not only did they only portray one side of the issue, the anchor clearly agreed with, and argued for, the mayor’s position.

    Oh wait, it’s Fox News. Duh.

  • http://www.meetup.com/av-freethinkers/ and then some

    Speaking as a resident and president of the only freethinking group in the area, what’s wrong with this mayor and the people of this town is they are dedicated to, in the mayor’s own words, “growing a Christian community.” The mayor and at least one of our city council members are conservative Christians with close ties to Lancaster Baptist Church, a wealthy and influential local megachurch.

    It’s also interesting to note that voter turnout was only 21%–but even if it was 100%, the measure probably would have passed by a significant majority.

    We will be following the JDL’s lawsuit closely, of course.

  • GentleGiant

    Translation of their arguments:
    “Well gosh darn it, we muscled our way onto the scene first and we’ll continue to do it the way we’ve always been doing it because it furthers our christian agenda and we’re actually too stupid to read the constitution and even do a simple google search about why this might be constitutionally wrong.”

    And Stephen (Math Teacher) is also spot on.

  • Beverly Johnson

    If this is your belief, say your prayer asking for guidance silently on the way to the meeting if you think it will make a difference and if it’s important to you instead of making a ‘show’ of it in front of everybody. Isn’t that what personal faith means?

  • Alex

    “Interestingly enough, the attorney she uses is also the attorney for the pornography industry. I don’t think that’s an accident.”
    What. A. Douche.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    I agree that this should be ruled unconstitutional. However, precedent favors the City Council, and I suspect they will, in fact, win: Marsh v. Chambers

  • http://krissthesexyatheist.blogspot.com krissthesexyatheist

    “They” follow the “higher law”. the law made by mortals does not count (not). There are a couple of these cases in California and it is always suggested that anyone (all faiths) are welcome to open the meeting with prayer-which does not solve the problem, it just makes it more stupid-pants.

    Kriss

  • Alt+3

    Is it just me or does the ‘Jewish Defense League’ sound like a really awesome comic?

  • http://findingmyfeminism.blogspot.com/ Not Guilty

    Tyranny of the majority disguised as democracy. This is why people shouldn’t be allowed to “vote” for gay rights, etc.

  • ckitching

    I wish these people would read their own bible once and a while.

    Matthew 6:5-7

    5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

    7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. 8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.

    So their own holy book calls them hypocrites. Fitting, I guess.

  • Rarian Rakista

    JDL is only a convenient friend of the freedom of speech. They act against it all the time. Their utter devotion to the idea that Israel, right or wrong should be protected from rational debate has clouded their mind with jingoist hatred towards numerous secular organizations. These people are apologists for a theocracy and the US government and the 4th estate since the time of Eisenhower has looked the other way when JDL says one thing and does another. Hypocritical, even if they speak Hebrew and are part of a faith persecuted by Hitler. They don’t deserve praise, they deserve condemnation.

    http://www.canpalnet-ottawa.org/JDL-York.html

  • muggle

    Alt+3, rent this:

    The Hebrew Hammer

    Freaking hilarious. I saw it when it first aired on Comedy Central and had to buy the DVD. It’s great. And it does mention the JDL… along with a whole colition of other Jewish civil rights activists.

    Wish he were around to take care of this asshole. Wait a minute, the JDL, hmmm, perhaps he is. Go, JDL, go!

  • Mike

    I find it extremely upsetting that people not only don’t understand something so basic about our laws, but that they just assume everyone should agree.
    Public officials should know better and that really bothers me that so many are not only ignorant of how things work, but even if they know they show an open disregard for laws. I recently got married and since my wife thinks of herself as christian and I am anti-theist, we opted to have the mayor marry us. That way I didn’t have to tolerate starting my marriage with a lie by pretending I agreed with all the religious/god mumbo jumbo, and she agreed. We got married in the city council chamber and sure enough at the end of our secular marriage ceremony(which I requested) the mayor snuck god in. In the wedding video you can see the change in my expression go from happy to, let’s just say upset to be polite.
    I was stuck there. If I couldn’t get into a legal, not to mention ethical debate right in the middle of my wedding. So I bit the bullet, gave him a dirty look, and said I do.
    After the ceremony I wanted to give him a piece of my mind, but again it was neither the time nor place. That night my wife commented on how well I handled it, as she had noticed it when it happened.
    Sure some may call this petty, but we agreed to a secular wedding by a government official rather than a minister, so there should never have been any mention of god in the ceremony. Of course they still say prayers at school events, which always get my goat, but I’m kind of the lone voice of reason in a rural, bible thumping town.
    Anyway my wedding was tainted, at least for me, by this event and it is too late to fix it now.
    I use to be a live and let live kind of person, but the more things like this happen the more it bothers me. I have found myself becoming more determined to remove all this religion woo woo, as Michael Shermer calls it, from public life. Just as Christians have the right to not be bothered by my views, I have the right to not have their myths, imaginary deities, and superstitions crammed down my throat.

  • http://tuibguy.com Mike Haubrich, FCD

    If I may echo with what Mike says, it is really important to realize that religion is not treated as a “private matter” to many religious people; it is their business what you or I believe. That is, they make it that way. They want this to be a Christian nation. I have had people tell me this, and the same people told me that we atheist and pagans can trust them to be fair and just in their dealings with us.

    No, not me. Not trusting.

    This is why I, like Mike, don’t wish to just tolerate such religious tomfoolery and am willing to be known as a “Nasty Atheist.”

  • Simon

    I like the idea of judging lawyers by their (former) clients.

    I mean some of those liberal leaning lawyers think that EVERYONE deserves appropriate legal representation.

  • muggle

    Mike, you handled that better than I would have. If the justice of the peace that had married me had snuck that in, I’d have interrupted and said, no god, point blank. I did stop him from including obey.

    If you’re only protesting when it’s foisted on us in a public venue, that’s not anti-theist in my book. I pride myself on not being anti-theist precisely because I have such a strong passion for relgious freedom and don’t think belief is a choice. Protesting for neutrality in public venues in just that, a stance for neutrality.

    Anti-theist would mean protesting for a stance proclaiming there is no god, or most likely no god, depending if you’re a hard atheist or soft. Personally, I state loud and clear there is no god but I would object just as strenuously to a public forum being used for that stance as I would for prayer.

    I use to stun people by getting pissed off at Jesse Ventura for doing just that. I agreed with every statement that I heard him proclaim but I was angered by his using his public position to proclaim them. He was as wrong as the Religious Right candidates who proclaim America is a Christian nation.

    Mike H, you’re right not to trust Christians who say that. They’re not trustworthy. There are other Christians, however, who are.

  • lanky

    Any chance anyone can explain the legality of the opening prayer in the US house of Reps? They bring it up in this video and it is an interesting question. Has litigation on that front been avoided because the facts are not as favorable. Or has litigation failed?

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Lanky, the case where the Supreme Court ruled opening prayer in a legislature is constitution is Marsh v. Chambers – I linked to it above. The basic logic of the Court was that the Founding Fathers in the First Congress had legislative prayer, so that makes it OK.

  • http://thinkasap.wordpress.com Amanda

    *shudder*

    That’s my hometown.

    Unfortunately Lancaster and its adjoining city, Palmdale, are a mini-Bible-belt of California. The majority of folks living there are white and Republican.

    Of course, I would attend school in Irvine/Orange County, which doesn’t align with my beliefs much better…

  • J

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