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Council members defend prayer policy

August 09, 2000

Paul Clinton

CIVIC CENTER -- Despite their setback in Superior Court, city

officials are defending the city's hands-off policy on prayer at City

Council meetings.

Because they don't play a role in choose who delivers the prayer or

dictate what is said, council members and the city's lawyers insist the

policy is both fair and legal. They assert they were unfazed by Los

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Angeles Superior Court Judge Alexander Willams' denial of Burbank's

request to toss out a Jewish activist's lawsuit. Instead, at the hearing

Thursday, Williams set a trial date for Nov. 3.

"I'm sorry he didn't see his way clear to grant our motion," Mayor

Bill Wiggins said Monday. "When the judge sees the process, I think that

he'll agree that we're perfectly right in doing what we're doing."

The city relies on the multidenominational Burbank Ministerial Assn..

to pick the pastor who delivers the weekly prayer. That association has

an open invitation to any religious group, officials said.

Jewish activist Irv Rubin sued the city Dec. 20 to remove prayers that

include any references to Jesus Christ. Rubin had attended a Nov. 23

meeting where Mormon pastor's prayer ended with a reference to Christ.

Rubin was offended, he has said, because the reference constituted a city

endorsement of Christianity.

"There's no way that the city of Burbank can dispel that as a

Christian prayer," Rubin said Thursday. "It makes me feel like I'm not in

the 'in' crowd."

On Thursday, Williams said the invocation did appear to be sectarian,

but would keep an open mind during the nonjury trial.

Vice Mayor Bob Kramer also defended the city's policy, saying the

council doesn't seek to exclude people with non-Christian beliefs.

"I think we're on the right path," Kramer said. "We certainly don't

push one religion over another."

Rubin, who is joined in his suit by Rosemead activist Alejandro

Gandara, is seeking an injunction to stop Burbank's invocations. He is

represented by noted First Amendment attorney Roger Jon Diamond, who is

based in Santa Monica.

Chief Assistant City Attorney Juli Scott is arguing the case for

Burbank.

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