LANCASTER –A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has affirmed a district court ruling upholding the city of Lancaster’s prayer policy, city officials announced Tuesday. Read the full press release below:
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has ruled in favor of the City of Lancaster in the case of Shelley Rubin and Maureen I. Feller v. City of Lancaster, a case in which U.S. District Judge Dale Fischer originally concluded in favor of the Defendant (the City of Lancaster) on July 11, 2011.
Unhappy with the outcome, the Plaintiffs appealed the decision and were determined to once again challenge the City’s Invocation Policy, as well as the reference to Jesus Christ in the invocation which opened the April 27, 2010 Lancaster City Council meeting.
A panel of three judges, including District Judge Jack Zouhary, as well as Circuit Judges Alfred T. Goodwin and Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain, affirmed the District Court’s bench trial judgment in favor of the City of Lancaster. The judges found that the single reference to Jesus in the invocation by Bishop Henry Hearns did not violate the Establishment Clause, as it was not utilized as an attack or promotion of any one religion or government with a particular faith.
Furthermore, the plaintiffs’ contention regarding the Lancaster City Council having an unwritten Christian bias was rejected by the panel. Neither the City record nor City prayer policy indicates a specific affiliation with Christianity, and the choosing of prayer content and denomination does not fall on the Council, but instead derives from local demographics as well as the voluntary participation of religious leaders.
“Sometimes lessons learned require more than one teaching,” said City of Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris. “The City of Lancaster is overjoyed to once again be vindicated of these erroneous charges. The act of group prayer is supposed to be a practice which draws people together into a state of humility and oneness, not of hostility and separatism. This is why all denominations are welcome to participate and lead in our City Council Meeting invocations.”
During its August 25, 2009 regular meeting, the Lancaster City Council approved and adopted its Policy Regarding Invocations at Meetings of the City Council of the City of Lancaster. Pursuant to this Invocation Policy, the Lancaster City Clerk compiles and maintains a database of religious congregations with an established presence in the city. The City Clerk does not inquire into the faith, denomination, or other religious belief of a congregation included on the list, or that asks to be included on the list.
On November 10, 2009, the City Council further decided to submit to City voters a ballot measure (Measure “I”) which asked: “In response to a recent complaint, with respect to the invocations that contained reference to Jesus Christ, shall the City Council continue its invocation policy in randomly selecting local clergy of different faiths to deliver the invocation without restricting the content based on their beliefs, including references to Jesus Christ?”
During the April 13, 2010 general municipal election, Measure I passed by a more than 3-1 margin; with 9,765 votes in favor and 3,116 votes in opposition.
“The court made the right decision,” remarked Mayor Parris. “The overwhelming will of the people of Lancaster was recognized by the court, along with the faith of all of us who believe in the power of prayer.”
(Information via press release from the city of Lancaster.)