City of Bishop creates invocation guidelines
In Mammoth, residents pray that it can’t get any worse.
In Bishop, worse is residents not being able to pray the way they want.
At the Bishop City Council meeting on Monday at the Council Chambers on West Line, Council held a public forum to discuss its newly created invocation guidelines.
As Town Attorney Peter Tracy explained, the City of Bishop has entertained religious invocations before Council meetings since 1967.
The general policy was to ask members of different local churches to give the invocation on a rotational basis.
A few months ago, however, the City received a request to give the invocation from a Hindu in Reno.
The City gave the okay. It really had no choice. If it had said no, a claim could’ve been made that the Hindu petitioner’s civil rights had been violated – potentially exposing the City to millions of dollars in legal liability.
It wasn’t a scam. The Hindu petitioner was legit, and gave a fine invocation. But the request caused Tracy to delve further into the issue.
This is what he found.
In the 1999 case of Rubin v. the City of Burbank, the California 2nd District Court of Appeal upheld a Superior Court decision which found that the invocations held at City meetings violated the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The Appeals Court found that “Prayer by chaplain at city council meeting which invoked “the name of Jesus Christ” … conveyed the message that the council was a Christian body, advancing a particular religious belief.”
Tracy said this case is the one which serves as the current guidepost for California law.
It’s also not a guidepost he’s terribly fond of. “I don’t like it one bit,” he said. “I’ve been trying to save invocations because I think they’re a good thing … but my job is to protect the Council and the City of Bishop.”
A silver lining, said Tracy, is that there’s currently a case going through the judicial system which could amend Rubin to some degree.
A different Rubin (Shelley as opposed to Burbank’s Irv) has sued the City of Lancaster regarding invocations at its meetings.
Lancaster argues that its invocation policy should be upheld because it compiles and maintains a database of all the religious congregations with an established presence in the city, and invites anyone and everyone, regardless of faith, to give the invocation. It does not judge the denomination or beliefs of any faith, but only asks that the prayer opportunity “not be exploited as an effort to convert others.”
This policy seems to dovetail with what Bishop resident Aaron Lamb said Monday during public comment. “This Council should allow people to profess all deities versus none.”
Erring on the side of caution, Tracy said Bishop’s guidelines should not be changed until a Lancaster decision is determined.
Bishop resident Gayla Wolf disagreed. “Once something is lost, you can’t get it back,” she began. “Most preachers can’t pray to a generic god … they pray to Jesus. The heck with all these well-intentioned restrictions. Let our holy men pray.”
So what are these restrictions?
-Avoid references to a particular deity (such as Jesus Christ, Buddha, Allah or ‘Our Father in Heaven’). More generic and inclusive terms such as “God,” “Holy One,” and “Creator” are acceptable.
-Avoid reference to any particular religious holiday, significant date, holy day or religious event.
-Refrain from reading or quoting from any sectarian book, doctrine or other material.
-Refrain from any reference to a particular religion or religious sect.
-Avoid using any other sectarian words or concepts that could reasonably be viewed as advancing or favoring one religion over another.
-The invocation need not be a prayer. The invocation may speak to a theme of thanksgiving, gratitude, enlightenment, guidance, etc.
-Legislative invocations involving nonsectarian requests for wisdom and solemnity, as well as calls for divine blessings on the work of the legislative body are encouraged.
-Be creative and self-expressive while respecting the religious and political viewpoints of others.
-Invocations should be long enough to be meaningful but brief enough that the Council has adequate time to address the issues at the meeting.
-If a presenter fails to comply with the nonsectarian invocation guidelines, the person may not be permitted to continue the invocation and will not be invited to return.