CIVIC CENTER -- Prayer will stay.
Unruffled by a Jewish activist’s threat to include Burbank in a 1st
Amendment lawsuit, city officials are vowing to preserve the invocation
that kicks off every City Council meeting.
“As the law sits now, prayers are acceptable as long as they do not
proselytize, belittle other religions or promote one particular
religion,” City Atty. Dennis Barlow said. “Unless (the courts) want to
plow new ground, they would allow what we have.”
In a blistering speech from the dais Tuesday night, activist Irv Rubin
said the meeting’s prayer violated the 1st Amendment’s establishment
clause -- providing for the separation of church and state -- by invoking
the name of Jesus Christ.
Rubin, the national chairman of the Jewish Defense League, accused the
city of “making a Christian pageantry” of the council meeting. Rubin said
he was also offended that the city allowed a group of John Burroughs High
School students to sing “Silent Night” because of the carol’s numerous
references to Christ.
“When the prayer invoked Jesus’ name, I was flabbergasted,” Rubin said
Wednesday. “I just don’t think it has a place in city council.”
Rubin -- who has also raised the issue at council meetings in Arcadia,
Rosemead and Duarte in recent weeks -- said he will seek a federal court
injunction against the public prayers.
Rubin, a Republican candidate in the race for the 24th District seat
held by Assemblyman Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), has also cited prayers
before Congressional sessions as problematic. Rubin said he has contacted
Santa Monica attorney Roger Jon Diamond.
Diamond, a high-profile constitutional lawyer, said he could not
respond specifically to Rubin’s claims against Burbank and the other
cities because of attorney-client privilege. Yet, Diamond said any
references to Christ at a council meeting would violate the establishment
“Where does religion belong? It belongs in the home, in the families
and in places of worship,” Diamond said. “It does not belong in
But Barlow said the Supreme Court, in several rulings, has affirmed
the right to pray before government meetings.
Other Burbank officials said there are no plans to do away with the
invocation. Burbank City Manager Bud Ovrom disagreed with Rubin’s
contention that Burbank singles out Christianity over other religions.
Ovrom said the denominations of the ministers who deliver the prayers
rotate each week.
“We take great pains to be, if not nondenominational, then
cross-denominational,” Ovrom said. “Our answer is not to have them all
gone, but to have them all included.”
Ovrom and others said Burbank doesn’t discriminate against any
religions. He said the city has an open invitation to all religious
groups in the city to offer a prayer.
The city has taken a hands-off approach, City Clerk Judie Sarquiz
said. Instead of choosing the pastor who performs the invocation, the
city allows the Burbank Ministerial Association to make the choice, she
Mayor Stacey Murphy also defended the city’s prayer as constitutional
and said the practice is not meant to offend.
“Everybody can choose to leave the council chambers if they want,”