The City of Lancaster, in California, is sued for offering sectarian prayers to Jesus before council meetings

Surprise, surprise.

As fundamentalists so frequently do when obtaining power, the fundamentalists who dominate the Lancaster City Council (particularly the mayor, R. Rex Parris, and council persons Sherry Marquez and Ron Smith) have overplayed their hand, drawing a lawsuit against the city. The lawsuit was entered on behalf of a nonfundamentalist Christian and a Jewish woman. This from the May edition of

Two Los Angeles County residents filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging religious invocations by clergy at City Council meetings in Lancaster, where voters last month passed a ballot measure making the practice city policy. . . .

The lawsuit was filed by attorney Roger Jon Diamond, who challenged a similar practice in Burbank in 2000 and won a state appellate court ruling saying the practice violated the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment.

Diamond sued on behalf of Lancaster resident Maureen Feller, who is Christian but said in the lawsuit that she was upset by prayer at council meetings, and Shelly Rubin, who is Jewish. Rubin, chief executive of the Jewish Defense League, is the widow of Irv Rubin, who was a plaintiff in the lawsuit against Burbank. . . .

Diamond said sectarian prayer at government meetings is illegal, regardless of which religious beliefs are being expressed. . . . “If next week they prayed in the name of Allah, it wouldn’t make a difference,” he said. “It doesn’t help that maybe once in a while, they violate the law in a different way.”

Peter Eliasberg, an ACLU attorney who sent the letter to the city, said that because the California Supreme Court declined to take up the issue in the Burbank case, a different outcome in the Lancaster lawsuit would be unlikely.

I wonder how many of our taxpayer dollars that Mayor Parris, and the other council members, will devote to defending against this lawsuit (as opposed to simply stopping their sectarian religious practices at taxpayer expense).

And did you know that Lancaster, California, a city of more than 150,000 people, doesn’t even have a general purpose bookstore? The mayor and city council will no doubt spend an inordinate amount of time fighting this lawsuit even as the community languishes without a bookstore.

Think about what that says about a city’s priorities.

Ironic and pathetic, yes?

Below is a photograph I took of where Lancaster’s only general purpose bookstore once was. It closed back in January, 2010. To my knowledge, neither R. Rex Parris, nor any of his fellow members on the city council, has lamented its closure, nor said anything about making an effort to attract a bookstore back to our community.

The shadow shown falling on the walkway in front of the door is being cast by a palm tree. I can’t help but think of Wallace Stevens’s line, “The palm at the end of the mind.”

But losing the city’s bookstore doesn’t get the council wound up. Making a special point to pray in Jesus’s name before the start of city council meetings does. Below is an image of the Lancaster City Council in chamber. As you can see, they recently put “In God We Trust” in giant letters behind them (no doubt again on the taxpayer’s dime).

They’re not subtle, are they?


About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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7 Responses to The City of Lancaster, in California, is sued for offering sectarian prayers to Jesus before council meetings

  1. Ed George says:

    In my estimation of history all monotheistic religions are inherently despotic and violent if given the cultural license to be so. The founders of the US knew as much. That’s why they made “no religious test” and “no law respecting an establishment of religion” integral to our secular constitution. The Christian fundamentalists have sought to bury those sacred laws ever since. That aside, if you want city hall action on a bookstore in Lancaster you would probably only have luck drumming for one of the “Christian Science” variety.

  2. Geni says:

    ONE NATION UNDER GOD! Why can’t they pray to God? You who are so worried about tax payers dollars back off and drop it. Why does a jewish lady in Burbank care what people do in Lancaster? I think if we had more prayer and less lawsuits we’d be a better country! Former Lancaster citizen

    • Longtooth says:


      You miss the point altogether. Prayer to “God” rendered in the non-sectarian sense of the word is not what the case is about. The Supreme Court made that clear years ago. The issue is Lancaster City Council’s permitting prayers to Jesus or Jesus Christ. Not everyone believes Jesus and “God” are one and the same. The legal issue would be identical if the invocations were to Buddha, Zeus, Thor, Mohammad, or some other personage venerated by a specific sectarian persuasion.

      A literal interpretation of the First Amendment’s two religion clauses mandates that all government business be conducted neutral between religion and irreligion. If completely enforced that would mean no prayer or religious ceremony of any kind, just real government business without provocative and divisive religious fanfare intertwined. Why can’t Lancaster City Council suffice with a moment of silence like they do over in Palmdale? Could it have anything to do with selfish and compromising evangelical zeal?



  3. J. A. Le Fevre says:

    It’s about bullying. Dogs and apes bully as well, it’s nothing to do with religion per se. Religious bullying does happen to be fashionable these days. Sometimes it is ethnic or lifestyle – fashions change but the bullying stays the same.

  4. Pingback: Equality & Intolerance | My Website

  5. Ben says:

    Last time I checked this was a free country and if they want to pray let them pray. One of the reasons this country was founded was for religious freedom and if we don’t have that any more than this is no longer the nation I respect.

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