The U.S. Supreme Court has resolved just how much prayer is OK at government meetings, but California's law is a fresh and different battleground, according to a lawyer suing Eureka over city-backed religiosity.
So yes, the U.S. president can have a prayer breakfast if he wants, but mayor Frank Jager? Well, attorney Peter Martin said the state's constitution is stricter, prohibiting any kind of promotion of religion.
On behalf of Eureka resident Carole Beaton, Martin is asking Humboldt County Superior Court to ban the city from holding prayers at city meetings and from using the mayor's office to promote prayer.
That sort of thing should stop, he said, because article 16, section five of the state constitution forbids promoting religion. Martin said he hasn't seen any case law that fully interprets that part of the constitution, so this could be a first.
Bring it on, said Jager, who by the way is leading a mayor's prayer breakfast at 7 a.m. on Feb. 7 at the Wharfinger building in Eureka. "If they want to sue us, fine, we'll take them on."
Jager said he is definitely holding the breakfast in his official role as mayor, and not as a private citizen. Donations and ticket sales will pay the $700 rental fee for the city-owned building, he said, unlike last year when prayer space was provided for free.
After earlier complaints, Eureka clarified its invocation policy in May 2012, asking potential pray-ers to sign a volunteer form acknowledging that courts don't allow references "to a specific religion, prophet or deity."
Jager said that policy has been followed since, although Martin disagreed, saying a Hindu prayer back in August stepped over the sectarian line.
The mayor said Monday afternoon that he hadn't yet seen the suit, which was filed on Friday and amended on Monday. But he knows the lawyer involved. "Peter Martin, he's a good buddy of mine. We'll invite him to the prayer breakfast. And if he doesn't come, we'll pray for him."