Last year, if you recall, the City of Bishop created an invocation policy for its Council meetings.
Though the City had traditionally had a prayer before meetings for more than forty years without incident, Town Attorney Peter Tracy, citing legal proceedings in other jurisdictions, convinced Council to adopt a policy regarding these opening prayers.
The policy forbids those giving the prayer to invoke the names of Jesus Christ, or Muhammad, or to say anything which could be conveyed to have a religious connotation supporting a particular faith.
At the time, however, Tracy said there was a pending case, Rubin v. Lancaster, which could alter the judicial landscape and potentially allow for an easing of Bishop’s policy.
Which indeed, it has.
To the point where Jesus might be making a comeback – at the very least, the standard might be relaxed so someone invoking Jesus in a prayer is not at risk of being thrown in the gulag for contempt.
In the recent Rubin decision handed down by the U.S., Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, the Court ruled in favor of the City of Lancaster.
Rubin had objected to a local bishop referring to Jesus Christ in an invocation prayer.
The Court found that, “A bishop’s single reference to Jesus in an invocation is not a violation of the establishment clause [in the Constitution separating Church and State].”
The decision went on to say that sectarian references in legislative prayer are not forbidden so long as it does not proselytize, advance or disparage one religion or affiliate government with a particular faith.
While the plaintiff had complained that the invocations in Lancaster had been predominantly Christian, the Court found that this Christian-leaning was a function of demographics, not prejudice.
In other words, if the population is 80% Christian, one can imagine the invocations might be given by a Christian 80% of the time.
Tracy said he would bring back an amended invocation policy sometime over the next few meetings, which will be changed to match Lancaster’s upheld policy.
The key to a winning policy apparently involves making sure that the municipality conducts thorough outreach to all faith organizations in the community to make sure that every religious denomination has the opportunity to give the invocation if it so chooses.