Wednesday, May 14, 2003
High Court to Mull Suit Brought by Late JDL Leader Over Burbank City Council Invocation
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The U.S. Supreme Court will consider at tomorrow’s weekly conference whether to review a ruling by this district’s Court of Appeal that prevents the Burbank City Council from opening its meetings with “sectarian prayer.”
The court could announce as early as Monday whether it will hear Rubin v. City of Burbank, 101 Cal.App.4th 1194, on the merits. The California Supreme Court denied review in December, with Justices Marvin Baxter and Janice Rogers Brown the only members of the court voting to review the Oct. 7 ruling of Div. Two.
That panel agreed with Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Alexander Williams III that an invocation offered “in the name of Jesus Christ” offended the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
Williams upheld a challenge brought by Irv Rubin. The late Jewish Defense League head sued in 1999 after attending a council meeting in order to express his views on Burbank Airport expansion.
Rubin, who was joined in the suit by Roberto Gandara, a Catholic who had attended an earlier council meeting, took issue with the invocation led by a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who declared: “We are grateful heavenly Father for all that thou has poured out on us and we express our gratitude and our love in the name of Jesus Christ.”
Burbank council meetings have, since 1953, opened with invocations—usually given by members of the Burbank Ministerial Association. The group is not entirely Christian, but Williams was told it had no Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or Baha’i members.
The city, represented by Chief Deputy City Attorney Juli Scott, argues that the Court of Appeal’s decision is contrary to Marsh v.Chambers, 463 U.S. 783 (1983), which held that having a state-salaried chaplain lead a daily prayer in the Nebraska legislature did not violate the Establishment Clause.
Justice Katherine Doi Todd, writing for the Court of Appeal, distinguished Marsh, noting that the ruling was based on a finding that the chaplain’s position had not been used to “proselytize or advance any one, or to disparage any other, faith or belief.” The justice also cited a footnote indicating that the chaplain had, in 1980, ceased referring to Jesus after a complaint from a Jewish legislator.
Doi Todd agreed with Williams that the inclusion of specific references to Jesus in a government body’s invocation is not permitted by Marsh and constitutes an Establishment Clause violation.
Santa Monica attorney Roger Jon Diamond, who has represented the plaintiffs from the beginning, said Rubin’s widow remains supportive of the suit.
Douglas Collodel of Sedgwick, Detert, Moran & Arnold filed an amicus brief on behalf of 80 California public agencies and a municipal lawyers group urging the high court to take the case.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company