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Highest court could hear Burbank case

Ben Godar

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.

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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.

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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

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decision overturned.

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

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allow religious prayer as long as no single faith or deity is

advanced.

“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.


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