Prayers at Lancaster council meetings are ruled constitutional

Lancaster Mayor Rex Parris (middle) prays at a city council meeting.
(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

Religious leaders may deliver opening prayers at Lancaster city council meetings and mention Jesus if they like, as long as a variety of denominations are invited, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled.

Lancaster Mayor Rex Parris says the prayers have unified the community, and the lawsuit was about “making Jesus a dirty word.”

Sectarian prayers are not prohibited at government meetings, the court said, and the city has not endorsed one religion over another, even though a majority of the prayers are Christian.


Eliminating the word “Jesus” would not work as a practical matter, since the city would have to edit every prayer for similar references, the court said.

The precedent in this area is unsettled, and the case has a chance of being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.


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