Once again Lancaster has been vindicated — or "blessed," as the city's press release put it — by a court ruling upholding its practice of opening City Council meetings with a prayer. On Tuesday, a federal appellate court affirmed a district court ruling that a single reference to Jesus Christ in an invocation did not violate the constitutional separation of church and state.
But regardless of what the courts say about its legality, opening council meetings with a prayer is inappropriate, and it should stop.
The original suit was filed by two citizens — one Jewish, one Christian — who argued not that prayer should be prohibited but that the explicit reference to Jesus violated the U.S. Constitution. Both courts have now found otherwise. In the decision by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, a panel of three judges found that a sectarian reference was not forbidden so long as it "does not proselytize, advance or disparage one religion or affiliate government with a particular faith." The court found that the city was not trying to ally itself officially with Christianity even though the majority of City Council prayers have been Christian.
Indeed, the city doesn't limit itself to Christian prayers. Its official policy is to try to contact and invite representatives of all religious groups in the area, no matter their denomination. All are cautioned against any prayers that disparage other beliefs. And maybe the reason that most of those who show up to offer a prayer are Christian is simply a reflection of the demographics of the area, as Mayor R. Rex Parris suggests.