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Court Rejects Sectarian Prayer at Burbank City Council Sessions

November 17, 2000|JASON SONG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A judge ruled Thursday that the Burbank City Council may no longer begin meetings with a sectarian prayer.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Alexander Williams III ruled that prayers referencing specific religions violate the principle of separation of church and state in the 1st Amendment.

Burbank leaders were disappointed by the ruling but have not decided whether to appeal.

"I'm disgusted . . . but I'm not sure whether an appeal would be worth the money," Councilwoman Stacey Murphy said.

While invocations will still be allowed, Burbank officials must now advise all clerics that "sectarian prayer as part of City Council meetings is not permitted under our Constitution," Williams wrote in his ruling.

Although Burbank officials had said such advice would violate clerics' 1st Amendment free speech rights, citing earlier Supreme Court cases, Williams disagreed.

"Is it permissible under the Constitution for the City of Burbank to provide guidance concerning the content of invocations offered as part of City Council meetings? Plainly it is," he wrote.

The case stems from a Nov. 23, 1999, Burbank City Council meeting where Irv Rubin, executive chairman of the Jewish Defense League, heard a minister refer to Jesus Christ. Rubin sued, along with Alejandro Gandara, a Christian, who has spoken out against sectarian prayer during Rosemead City Council meetings.

"Sectarian prayer elevates one religion over another," Rubin said.

Rubin and Gandara, who did not ask for monetary damages, were pleased by the ruling.

"I'm thrilled, it renews my faith in the U.S. Constitution," Rubin said.

Rubin said he planned to launch an anti-sectarian prayer campaign. "I'm going to take this to every other city council including Rosemead and tell them they are breaking the law," he said.

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