Invoking the name of Jesus Christ or any other deity will remain
prohibited at City Council meetings.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear the city of
Burbank’s appeal in a case that banned such religious references at
council meetings. Justices reviewed the case late last week, and
announced their decision without comment, a court official said.
Jewish activist Irv Rubin filed the lawsuit in 1999 after a Mormon
bishop used the phrase “Jesus Christ” in a prayer before a council
meeting. A trial court ruled such invocations were unconstitutional,
a ruling that was upheld by the state appellate court.
Those who give the invocation in Burbank have been instructed not
to refer to specific deities since the initial trial court ruling, so
Burbank Assistant City Atty. Juli Scott said nothing will change.
“We gave it our best shot,” Scott said. “We don’t like the idea of
having to exclude anyone, but obviously the Supreme Court wasn’t
concerned enough to take the case.”
Scott said she believed the religious prayers were legal because
clergy from a variety of faiths were invited to give the invocations.
The appellate ruling now makes it clear to cities that any sectarian
prayer is inappropriate, plaintiff’s attorney Roger Jon Diamond said.
“When Irv Rubin went to the council meeting, he did not know at
other meetings other religions would be allowed to do it,” Diamond
said. “Each council meeting should obey the Constitution, not if you
average it out.”
The appellate decision made the ruling binding statewide, but
Diamond said many cities were not planning to enforce it until the
Supreme Court made a decision.
Diamond said the case was not an attack on religion, but a
challenge to when and where it is appropriate. He credited Rubin, who
died in December after an alleged suicide, with bringing the issue to
“We won every step of the way,” he said. “It’s too bad Irv’s not
around to enjoy it.”