The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide in the next few days
whether it will consider an appeal to overturn a ban on religious
prayers at Burbank City Council meetings.
The justices are expected to announce Monday whether they will
consider the case, a Supreme Court spokesperson said this week. If
the case is accepted, it would likely not begin until October,
according to attorneys.
In 1999, Jewish activist Irv Rubin and Roberto Alejandro Gandara
of Rosemead filed a lawsuit against Burbank seeking to prohibit
religious references during the invocation before council meetings.
The following year, a trial court ordered the city to prohibit
specific religious references. The state Court of Appeals upheld the
ruling, making the decision binding statewide.
The state Supreme Court declined to hear the case in December,
leaving the U.S. Supreme Court as the city’s last chance to have the
Nearly 80 cities and the International Municipal Lawyers
Association have filed briefs supporting Burbank’s appeal. If the
high court decides to take the case, Burbank Asst. City Atty. Juli
Scott is confident more cities and even some states would also file
briefs in support.
While the city has lost the case before two courts, Scott believes
those judges are misinterpreting previous Supreme Court rulings that
allow religious prayer as long as no single faith or deity is
“If we were proselytizing or promoting a certain religion, we
would be in violation,” she said. “We don’t do that.”
The state court’s decision not to hear the case came 37 days after
Rubin died following an alleged suicide. He was in federal custody in
Los Angeles at the time on charges he conspired to blow up a mosque.
Roger Jon Diamond, the attorney for the plaintiffs, said it is
difficult to speculate on whether the high court will take the case.
Rubin’s death and the fact that there have been relatively few
lower-court decisions on the issue were two reasons Diamond said they
might decline to hear the case.
“Going to the Supreme Court is like the lottery,” he said. “They
take so few cases.”
It was the council’s practice to invite representatives from a
variety of faiths to perform the invocation, and Scott said most
delivered their prayers in a non-sectarian way. Since the lower
courts ruled in the case, those who perform the invocations have been
instructed not to invoke specific religious deities, Scott added.