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Judges rules invocations at council meetings do not violate the state Constitution

From the City of Eureka:
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
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.