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.