Council prayer issue headed for court

Robert Blechl

CIVIC CENTER -- With neither side willing to flinch, a September court

date has been set in a lawsuit filed by a San Gabriel activist over the

constitutionality of Christian prayers before City Council meetings.

Irv Rubin, national chairman of the Jewish Defense League, contends

the denominational prayer he witnessed at the Nov. 23 council meeting

violated the separation of church and state by invoking the name of Jesus

Christ. Rubin attended the November meeting -- his first in Burbank -- to

voice his views on airport expansion, he said.

Rubin announced his intention to sue in December.

Set for Sept. 15, the proceedings will take place in county Superior

Court. Rubin's suit seeks to force the city to permit only

nondenominational prayers.

"I would have no problem if it was just a prayer to a god," Rubin

said. "I do have a problem with denominational prayers. The Founding

Fathers promised us in the First Amendment that there would be no

state-sponsored religion."

The ministers who deliver the invocations are selected by the

multidenominational Burbank Ministerial Association and not the city.

City officials say interfering with the ministers' prayers would be an

infringement of the association's right to free speech. They point out

that the association's members are not all Christians.

As he has previously, City Atty. Dennis Barlow defended the city's

invocation, saying the prayers do not violate anyone's rights. He said

the U. S. Supreme Court has affirmed the right to pray before government

meetings begin.

"It won't be much of a trial. It's not a factual issue, but a legal

issue," Barlow said. "(The prayers) aren't an attempt to offend anyone."

Rubin's attorney, Roger Diamond, said the lawsuit is actually

pro-religious.

"We are not attacking religion or prayer, but we think the appropriate

place to pray is in a religious facility or in the home," Diamond said.

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