FFRF Calls Out Another Prayerful Calif. City Council

"We dedicate this meeting to Thee, and we do so in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen."

Thus ended the invocation by Fire Chief Kirk Waters that opened the Feb. 2 meeting of the City Council in Manteca, Calif. Such a prayer violates state law and the U.S. Constitution, noted a March 15 letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation to the council and Mayor Willie Weatherford.

A Manteca resident alerted the Foundation, which has more than 2,000 California members, to the violation. A review of the prayers from council proceedings showed they "are rarely, if ever, nondenominational and nonsectarian," said Rebecca Market, FFRF staff attorney. By frequently invoking "Jesus' name," the prayers show preference for a particular religion's deity, which federal courts have barred.

California state law also barred the practice of invoking Jesus during legislative meetings, Markert said, citing Rubin v. City of Burbank, in which appellate courts upheld a ruling that an "invocation offered to Jesus Christ violated the Establishment Clause because it conveyed the message that Christianity was being advanced over other religions." Courts also rejected the argument that restrictive policies abridge free-speech rights.

Sectarian prayers also alienate non-Christians and nonbelievers who are, in essence, a captive audience at public meetings, the Foundation said. "The constitutional rights of citizens to participate in government meetings should not be predicated on being subjected to Christian-based prayers."

Proof of the prayers' divisiveness surfaced during several Christian invocation protests in the neighboring communities of Lodi and Tracy, Markert noted, adding that the solution is simple: Discontinue the prayers.

"At a minimum, the city of Manteca should require that any invocations given before council meetings are nonsectarian and nondenominational."

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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