The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California has demanded that the Lancaster City Council immediately cease the unconstitutional and divisive practice of opening its meetings, as well as other government meetings in the city, with Christian prayers.
In a letter sent today to Mayor R. Rex Parris and all members of the City Council, the ACLU/SC urged the city to end the use of sectarian prayers that show favoritism to a single religion in public meetings, or face possible legal action. The demand letter was sent after the ACLU/SC received complaints from residents attending the meetings.
“The City Council is clearly showing bias toward one religion by leading council and planning meetings with Christian prayers,” said Peter Eliasberg, Manheim Family Attorney for First Amendment Rights at the ACLU/SC. “Public officials are not only alienating a large swath of the non-Christian constituents they represent, but they are also clearly violating one of the most basic principles of the Constitution – that government must not favor one religion over others.”
City officials regularly open public meetings with prayers in the name of Jesus, demonstrating favoritism toward Christianity.
The letter written by Eliasberg cites numerous cases in which the U.S. Supreme Court and lower courts that have ruled that the practice of opening meetings with sectarian prayers is unconstitutional. In 2002, the California Court of Appeal upheld a Superior Court ruling that concluded that a prayer given by the city of Burbank “in the name of Jesus Christ” violated the First Amendment. The court ordered the city to cease opening its meetings with sectarian prayers, and to inform anyone conducting a prayer that sectarian prayers are prohibited.
The city has until August 14 to respond to the letter.