‘Jesus for Prayer’ in Lancaster
Should the City of Lancaster continue its policy of randomly selecting clergy from different faiths to deliver the invocation at council meetings “without restricting the content based on their beliefs, including references to Jesus Christ”?
“PARRIS FOR MAYOR, JESUS FOR PRAYER,” read the front page headline of the April 14 edition of the Antelope Valley Press. In an overwhelming response to criticism against opening Lancaster City Council meetings with prayers in Jesus’ name, Lancaster residents voted 3-1 in favor of a measure allowing such prayers to continue. They also re-elected Mayor Parris who strongly pushed the measure.
The prayer initiative was drafted after the ACLU sent the city of Lancaster a complaint that “sectarian prayers” (prayers to any specific deity) were “divisive” and “unconstitutional.” The City Council selects clergy from the community to open official meetings, allowing them to pray however they wish. The measure asked voters to support this neutral, open policy. It read:
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?
The Christian Law Association, which has stood for the rights of Christians to practice their faith openly, notified city officials of a 2008 federal appeals court ruling. The court ruled that government should not attempt to control what is said during an invocation. The LA Times reported that while the majority favored unrestricted prayer, the battle is far from over:
Peter Eliasberg, managing attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said Wednesday the ACLU is considering taking Lancaster to court if the prayers keep singling out Christianity over other religions.
Media attention was firmly on prayer in this election. The LA Times ran several stories before and after the election, even quoting Dr. Paul Chappell from his blog, “The Pastor’s Perspective.” A local CBS news station interviewed Dr. John Goetsch and took statements from others who were on the campus of Lancaster Baptist Church.
“It’s always been the practice of government to open public meetings with prayer.” Dr. Goetsch told CBS news. “To ask God for wisdom upon our leaders is right.”
Please pray that this measure will be upheld in the inevitable court case. America has a strong tradition of prayer and reliance on the Almighty. Allowing men and women to pray in the name of Christ before a government event is not establishing a religion, it is respecting the free exercise of religion. We applaud our city leadership for continuing in a tradition that is part of our American culture and has been blessed by God.
The CLA on Public Prayer
What should happen if someone is offended by hearing a prayer at a public meeting? In the case of the City of Lancaster’s prayer policy, it was neutral, and it allows any local clergyman to pray. Nothing done at these meetings violates any law.
Our Constitution has never protected people from being offended, and prayers have always opened legislative meetings in America. Courts require a neutral prayer policy, and citizens must be allowed to leave the meeting if they are offended.
If you serve in local government and have a question about prayer policy, our attorneys at the CLA are honored to serve you at absolutely no charge.
Christian Law Association P.O. Box 4010, Seminole, FL 33775 727.399.8300, christianlaw.org