ACLU threatens Lancaster officials for praying in Jesus’ name
August 18, 2009
Alex Murashko — Examiner
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California has demanded that Lancaster officials stop invoking Jesus’ name during opening prayers for government meetings, or face possible legal action.
The ACLU states the practice is “clearly unconstitutional” in a letter addressed to Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris and the City Council.
In the letter sent last week, ACLU lawyer Peter Eliasberg said sectarian prayers make “members of a variety of faiths feel like outsiders in their own community.”
He urged the officials to respond by Friday, or else, “you will likely face legal action, which would almost certainly result in a court order forbidding sectarian prayers at your City Council or other official government meetings, and requiring you to pay the plaintiffs’ attorneys fees.”
The letter cited numerous cases in which the U.S. Supreme Court and lower courts ruled as unconstitutional the practice of opening meetings with sectarian prayers unconstitutional.
In 2002, the California Court of Appeal upheld a Superior Court ruling that a prayer given by the city of Burbank “in the name of Jesus Christ” violated the First Amendment. It ordered the city to stop opening its meetings with sectarian prayers, and to inform anyone conducting a prayer that sectarian prayers are prohibited.
Eliasberg said he sent the letter in response to complaints from Lancaster residents.
An online petition to honor Parris for having “defied a threatening letter from the ACLU, by daring to pray publicly ‘in Jesus name’ himself, before a city council meeting” is available at the Pray in Jesus Name Project Website.