Monday, December 30, 2013
by Grant Scott-Goforth
on Mon, Dec 30, 2013 at 2:36 PM
Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Bruce Watson ruled — on Christmas Eve, no less — that invocations at council meetings do not violate the California Constitution, according to a press release issued by the city attorney today.
Eureka citizen Carole Beaton sued the city earlier this year, saying the mayor’s office shouldn't promote prayer. “We’ll take them on,” Mayor Frank Jager told the Journal at the time
Watson ruled that the writers of the state’s Constitution had not “intended to prohibit legislative prayer,” according to the release. In announcing the city victory, Jager said, “The City welcomes everyone and does not force anyone that does not want to participate in the invocation to join in.”
Here’s the full release:
Carole Beaton v. City of Eureka Ruling: On Christmas Eve, the Honorable W. Bruce Watson of the Humboldt County Superior Court, issued an order denying Carole Beaton’s Motion for Summary Adjudication against the City of Eureka and granting the City’s Motion for Summary Judgment/Adjudication on the issue of invocations at City Council meetings. The Court has ruled that invocations at City Council meetings in general and that specifically Policy and Procedure 1.25 do NOT violate the California Constitution.
Policy and Procedure 1.25 was adopted by the City on May 1, 2012 in response to a letter from the ACLU Redwood Chapter requesting that sectarian prayers be discontinued at future City Council meetings. Since the adoption of 1.25, there has been only one invocation at a City Council meeting which was delivered by a member of the Hindu faith and a young man sang “God Bless America” during the time set for the invocation. Judge Watson noted that other than this one invocation and the singing of “God Bless America” nothing of a religious nature has taken place at City Council meetings since the adoption of the policy.
Beaton had contended that allowing ANY invocations at City Council meetings, whether sectarian or nonsectarian, violated three clauses of the California Constitution: the Establishment and No Preference clauses of Article I, Section 4 and the No Aid clause of Article XVI, Section 5 of the California Constitution. The Court, following the reasoning laid out in the United States Supreme Court case of Marsh v. Chambers, held that the City’s allowance of voluntary, nonsectarian invocations did not violate the California Constitution. Judge Watson, citing to language from a California Supreme Court case, noted that it did not appear that the drafters of the California Constitution intended to prohibit legislative prayer:
“Since 1849 the state Constitution has begun with a religious invocation: ‘We, the People of the State of California, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, in order to secure and perpetuate its blessings, do establish this Constitution.’ (Cal. Const., preamble, italics added; cf. Cal. Const. of 1849, preamble.) This language, as well as the history of how it came to be included, eloquently refutes the argument that the framers of the state Constitution intended to prohibit ceremonial prayer.”
Mayor Frank Jäger said he was pleased with the ruling. “Invocations have a place in history in this country and I do not believe that the City of Eureka should be treated any differently than the United States Congress or the California State Legislature. The City welcomes everyone and does not force anyone that does not want to participate in the invocation to join in.”
The ruling comes after the oral argument before the U.S. Supreme Court in the Town of Greece, New York v. Galloway on November 7, 2013. The controversy in Town of Greece centers on the tradition that commences official board meetings of the town council in which, 30 minutes before the actual meeting begins, the board hears a religious prayer written and delivered by local clerics asking for guidance and wisdom. The “moment of prayer” is on the official agenda. The Obama Administration argued in favor of the practice before the U.S. Supreme Court noting that the House and Senate have official chaplains; the court in 1983 upheld opening prayers in state legislatures; and, that local councils that have religious invocations should not be required to “police the content of prayers.” A ruling in the Town of Greece case is expected in late spring/early summer.
A lawsuit intending to stop invocations at city of Eureka functions was denied last week after nearly a year in court.