Rubin v. City of Lancaster

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: First Amendment
  • Date Filed: 03-26-2013
  • Case #: 11-56318
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge O'Scannlain for the Court; Circuit Judge Goodwin and District Judge Zouhary
  • Full Text Opinion

The City of Lancaster's practice and policy of allowing city council meetings to begin with a citizen-led invocation open to any local congregation who volunteers does not constitute a violation of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause as long as the prayer does not “proselytize, advance, or disparage” a faith or “affiliate the government with a particular faith.”

Since 2009, the City of Lancaster has had a practice and official policy that allows citizen-led invocations from a local congregation, of any faith, to open its city council meetings. The majority of congregations represented at the meetings are Christian. Two attendees “upset and offended” by an invocation (“Plaintiffs”) brought a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against the City of Lancaster alleging that the city council’s practice of invocations referring to “Jesus” during meetings violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. The district court returned a judgment in favor of the City, and the Plaintiffs appealed. The Ninth Circuit reasoned neither Marsh v. Chambers nor County of Allegheny v. ACLU “categorically forbids sectarian references in legislative prayer” so long as the prayer does not “proselytize, advance, or disparage” a faith or enmesh the government with a particular religion. The panel rejected Plaintiffs’ argument that although the City’s invocation policy was facially neutral, its effect was to unconstitutionally promote Christian beliefs because most of the invocations are Christian. The panel also held that the City’s invocation policy did not contravene the Establishment Clause by promoting an unconstitutional affiliation with Christianity because it was neutral, open to all faiths who volunteer, and the City was not involved in picking the invocation’s content. AFFIRMED.

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