The following comes from a March 3 story in the Rialto Daily Bulletin.
Pastor Trish Valdez of Lost and Found Ministries took part in a long-standing City Council tradition when she opened the Feb. 12 meeting with a prayer for wisdom on behalf of elected leaders and other decision-makers.
“We thank you in the name of Jesus. Amen,” Valdez said at the end of the brief invocation.
The council that night approved a resolution defending the practice of public prayers before meetings.
The seven-page resolution says the city since its incorporation has followed a practice of selecting a member of the local clergy to provide invocations at council meetings.
It goes on to cite several court cases, including Marsh v. Chambers, in which the Supreme Court in 1983 rejected a challenge to the Nebraska Legislature opening each session with prayer from a state-funded chaplain….
The resolution in this city says invocations will not be recognized as an agenda item so that they are not considered part of public business.
It also says no person in attendance will be required to participate in any prayer
According to the resolution, the City Clerk will maintain a database of religious congregations from which speakers will be selected on a rotating basis.
The database will use listings from the Yellow Pages and the Internet, as well as recommendations from the Chamber of Commerce….
But some say it is questionable as to whether the resolution is indeed constitutional.
Peter Eliasberg, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union Southern California, said in an email that the resolution “conveniently omits” three federal court of appeal cases and one California appellate court case that have held that invocation policies resulting in sectarian prayers are unconstitutional.
“In other words, the resolution suggests that what Rialto is doing is constitutional, when it is in fact highly questionable that it is – particularly if a vast majority of the prayers end up being given `In Jesus’ Name’ or have other obvious indicia that they are exclusively Christian,” Eliasberg wrote….
“The Supreme Court made it clear in 1983 that public prayers are constitutional,” said Brett Harvey, senior counsel for the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Alliance Defending Freedom.
Harvey said if the Founding Fathers delivered prayers according to the dictate of their conscience, legislators and those giving invocations today should be able to do the same….
Rialto’s resolution is similar to a Lancaster policy that is now under review in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
In 2009, officials in Lancaster passed a policy that Rialto has adopted nearly word for word.
That same year, the ACLU sent a letter to Lancaster officials that the policy was unconstitutional.
The issue went before voters, who in April 2010 approved the invocation policy with 75.8 percent supporting it.
In July 2011, U.S. District Judge Dale Fischer ruled that the Lancaster invocation policy was legal, saying that it does not promote a specific religion or discriminate against others….
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