Ban on Jesus Prayers

Jan 24, 2003 11:27 AM EST

BURBANK, CA -- Orange County City Councils are now starting to comply with the Supreme Court ruling, banning the name of "Jesus," or any other specific religious figure which promotes a particular figure, in public forums. This court ruling, limiting invocations to mention a general "god," have stirred up attention as the new focal point for church-state clashes at city halls.

For the last few years, the public displays of God's laws on civic property have been the center of constitutional disputes. Cases such as Moore vs. State of Alabama, in which Judge Moore was ordered to take down the 10 commandments monument from city hall, have sparked much debates and interest across courts and churches alike.

Currently, the issue at hand lies at the local level, where city councils have been trying to figure out how to ensure the name of Jesus is not invoked during local authorities' pre-meeting public prayers, following the California state appeals court ruling that lets stand a ban on sectarian comments.

Should the city of Burbank decide to go to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the ruling, several cities statewide are set to follow its lead, on the grounds that 'prayers in the name of Jesus' violate the constitutionally required separation of church and state.

Burbank mayor David Laurell commented that the lawsuit "has already had statewide impact and could have nationwide impact." He added: "I'm all for invocations that are all-inclusive, but I don't want me or anybody else to tell people that it has to be that way."

The Fullerton city attorney advised that prayers could be given to "Our Heavenly Father," but should not hold reference to Jesus' name.

In other cities however, the leaders refuse to uphold a ban. The Temple City mayor, Kenneth Gillanders said that religious leaders invited to open meetings with prayer could continue to do so however they wanted.

"Frankly, we're a little reluctant to have somebody force their views on us," he told the "Star-News." "It's strange to pick out [invocations] when we have 'Under God' stamped on our coins. It's part of the litigious society we're in."

John Mastrogiovanni, president of the Monrovia Ministerial Association and pastor of Jesus is Lord Christian Center, said, "In the name of not being offensive to others it's also saying now you can't be who you are. That's like saying if you're black, don't be black anymore because that offends me."

Some evangelical churches, including the Cornerstone Community Church in San Clemente have reported withdrawing from giving invocations completely because of the ban on using Jesus' name.

Ron Sukut, pastor of Cornerstone said, "This is indicative of how confused we are, spiritually speaking, about what God is. I think we have a constitutional right to choose which God we're praying to. Taking that right away is what's unconstitutional."

The issue has also surfaced in other states, including the Maryland state Senate where a three pre-meeting prayers were given in Jesus name last week.

"There are numerous faiths represented in the General Assembly, and in recognition of that...the prayers that are said...should be as neutral in terms of their reference to a particular god as they can be," said Sen. Sharon M. Grosfeld, D-Montgomery County, who is Jewish.

The Colorado's State Board of Education has ended its pre-meeting public prayers after a request from Jewish member Evie Hudak commented that the prayers were "not the kind of situation I felt comfortable with."

By Pauline C.