validated a county judge's November 2000 decision to prohibit
references to a religious deity during council meeting invocations.
Jewish activist Irv Rubin and Rosemead resident Roberto Alejandro
Gandara, who was raised Catholic, brought the original lawsuit. They
claimed that a prayer given by David King, a bishop with the Church
of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, at the Nov. 23, 1999, council
meeting was a breach of the separation of church and state because of
its reference to "Jesus Christ."
In a 15-page opinion Monday, the court upheld the 2000 ruling on
the lawsuit, which Roger Jon Diamond, the attorney for Rubin and
Gandara, said is binding on all California governments. Rubin is in
federal custody on charges he conspired to blow up a mosque.
"By directing the prayer to 'Our Father in Heaven ... in the name
of Jesus Christ,' the invocation conveyed the message that the
Burbank City Council was a Christian body, and from this it could be
inferred that the council was advancing a religious belief,"
Associate Judge Kathryn Doi Todd wrote.
In defending the invocations, city attorneys cited a 1983 U.S.
Supreme Court case in which the court ruled that legislative
invocations are permitted. But that case only ruled on a prayer that
had no references to a deity.
"The only restriction being imposed on the prayer is that it not
be sectarian, that is, that the invocation not be used to advance one
faith or belief over another," Doi Todd said.
Local officials disagreed.
Chief Assistant City Atty. Juli Scott said she disagreed with the
court's focus on one prayer in a city with a tradition of allowing
various ministers to give the invocation.
Mayor David Laurell, citing Burbank as a "lightning rod," said the
city should go forward with an appeal and has received several calls
of support. The decision continues to force the city to not allow a
minister or cleric of any faith to practice their own free speech,
But Gandara saw it differently.
"All we've ever asked is that they say a prayer that includes
everybody. We've not asked them to stop praying," he said.