Praying in Jesus' name at California city council meetings is now illegal.
Since 1953 the city of Burbank had allowed members of a nondenominational ministerial association to open its council meetings with prayer. But Irv Rubin, the late chairman of the Jewish Defense League, filed suit in 1999 after a Mormon leader prayed in the name of Jesus Christ.
A California Superior Court judge ruled in November 2000 in Rubin v. City of Burbank that sectarian prayer at a city council meeting violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
The United States Supreme Court declined on May 19 to hear what would have been the second appeal of the decision.
John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, called Burbank a knee-jerk case of religious discrimination. Whitehead told Christianity Today that Burbank officials had created a public forum by providing leaders of all religious communities an opportunity to pray.
"It's a total misconstruction of the Constitution," Whitehead said. "Once you create a public forum for speakers, you can't discriminate on the basis of religion."
Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, said the Burbank victory "represents a good step in the direction of rejecting government-sponsored prayer."
The California judge said cities have to instruct clergy not to pray in a sectarian manner at meetings. Douglas Colladel, an attorney who filed an amicus brief in support of the prayer policy, told the Los Angeles Daily News the decision would affect the entire state.
"It affects all legislative bodies in California," Colladel said. "To avoid being sued, many cities may decide to abolish prayer altogether."
Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice said the decision infringes on free speech. "The price of freedom is that sometimes you hear things in public places you don't agree with."
Marshall Allen in Pasadena
Copyright © 2003 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Related articles and essays include:
Rubin v. City of Burbank: Separating Church and State at City Council Meetings—WesternCity.com (July 2003)
City Council can't begin meetings with sectarian prayer—Associated Press (Sept. 10, 2002)
The friend-of-the-court brief (PDF) filed by The Rutherford Institute on behalf of the City of Burbank is available online. The original judge's decision from 2000 is available at the Jewish Defense League website.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more
More from this Issue
Read These Next
- TrendingTim Keller Practiced the Grace He PreachedIn an increasingly divisive world, the pastor theologian’s legacy was walking the higher road—the one less traveled.españolPortuguêsFrançais简体中文한국어Indonesian繁體中文русский
- From the MagazineI Find Comfort in the Divine WarriorA surprising psalm changed my view on God’s presence during seasons of trial.
- RelatedUnited Methodists Lose 1,800 Churches in Split Over LGBT StanceThe initial departures, mostly concentrated in the South, represent around 6 percent of the denomination—not as dramatic as the “schism” some feared.
- Editor's PickA Tale of Two New York City PastorsOne formed me. The other entertained me.