Ninth Circuit Court Of Appeals Upholds City’s Invocation Policy For Council Meetings


In Rubin v. City of Lancaster, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s determination that the city council’s invocation policy and practice did not amount to an unconstitutional establishment of religion. Two attendees of a city council meeting alleged that the City’s practice of allowing prayers that mention Jesus and the City’s invocation policy constituted an establishment of religion.

For many years the City had informally begun its council meetings with a citizen led invocation. Prior to the lawsuit, the ACLU had challenged this practice.  In response to the ACLU, the City drafted an official invocation policy. The policy requires the city clerk to maintain a database of established religious congregations in the City and to invite all of the congregations to deliver an invocation. The policy elaborates that the purpose is to “acknowledge and express the city council’s respect for the diversity of religious denominations and faiths represented and practiced among the citizens of Lancaster.” The City gauged public support for the policy by submitting a nonbinding measure to municipal voters, and the voters approved the measure.

In upholding the lower court’s determination, the Ninth Circuit analyzed the City’s invocation policy and one specific invocation which referenced Jesus. The Court held that sectarian legislative invocations are not categorically banned, that the City’s policy was facially neutral, and that the record did not indicate that the City had taken steps to affiliate itself with Christianity. Additionally, the Court found that the City had codified neutrality enforcing safeguards, taken proactive measures to be inclusive, and stressed the policy’s nonsectarian aims. The Court explained that “so long as legislative prayer - whether sectarian or not – does not proselytize, advance, or disparage one religion or affiliate government with a particular faith, it withstands scrutiny.” In this case, the Court found no evidence to suggest that the invocations proselytized, advanced, or disparaged any faith.

* Caitlyn Sharrow, a second-year law student at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, is A Loyola Education Practicum Student. The Practicum, part of Loyola’s education law curriculum, was created to provide law students with practical experience at education law firms and organizations. Students receive academic credit for their Practicum experience.

Written by:

Published In:

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Franczek Radelet P.C. | Attorney Advertising

Don't miss a thing! Build a custom news brief:

Read fresh new writing on compliance, cybersecurity, Dodd-Frank, whistleblowers, social media, hiring & firing, patent reform, the NLRB, Obamacare, the SEC…

…or whatever matters the most to you. Follow authors, firms, and topics on JD Supra.

Create your news brief now - it's free and easy »

All the intelligence you need, in one easy email:

Great! Your first step to building an email digest of JD Supra authors and topics. Log in with LinkedIn so we can start sending your digest...

Sign up for your custom alerts now, using LinkedIn ›

* With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name.