LOS ANGELES, Calif. – On Tuesday, a majority of Lancaster voters approved a ballot measure in support of religious prayers at the invocation of city meetings. The ACLU of Southern California opposes the unlawful and divisive use of sectarian prayers at official government meetings of any kind, because the practice violates one of the most basic tenets of the Constitution: the Establishment Clause, which clearly prohibits government from showing favoritism toward any religion. A prayer in the name of Jesus or a Hindu god or any other religious deity also alienates followers of other denominations, as well as nonbelievers.
“In a constitutional democracy such as the United States of America, some basic rights are protected by the Constitution and cannot be determined by a vote,” said Peter Eliasberg, ACLU/SC managing attorney and Manheim Family Attorney for First Amendment Rights. “For example, a majority of voters could not outlaw Republican political rallies, or ban the construction of mosques, temples or churches within city limits.
“We are deeply concerned about the direction Lancaster city leaders have taken in calling for and supporting this ballot measure. No court in the land has ever approved a city’s attempt to specifically authorize sectarian prayers prior to city meetings. If the Lancaster City Council continues its policy of allowing sectarian prayers prior to meetings, we will explore all legal avenues to determine how to proceed.”