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CITY COUNCIL AGENDA ITEM NO. 34



Meeting Date: April 24, 2007

Subject/Title: Consideration of a City Council Meeting Invocation Policy

Prepared by: Damien Brower, City Attorney

Submitted by: Damien Brower, City Attorney
Donna Landeros, City Manager

RECOMMENDATION
Consider whether to adopt a policy providing for invocations to be given at the beginning of a regular City Council Meeting and if so, approve a resolution adopting a City Council meeting invocation policy.

PREVIOUS ACTION
At the February 13, 2007 City Council meeting, Vice Mayor Brockman, with Council concurrence, asked that staff look into the issues related to City Council meeting invocations.

BACKGROUND
In September 2002, a California Appellate Court ruled that California cities could begin their city council meetings with an invocation. However, the court held that such invocations had to be non-sectarian in nature (not referencing a specific deity or religion) or they would be found unconstitutional. (Rubin v. City of Burbank)

The Rubin case involved a 1999 Burbank City Council meeting in which a member of the Burbank Ministerial Association delivered an invocation that began with “Our Father in Heaven” and concluded with “we express our gratitude and our love in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.” One of the meeting’s attendees took offense at these references and filed suit against the city.

The trial court ruled against the city and the appellate court agreed, concluding that the invocation violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Specifically, the court found that by directing the prayer to “Our Father in Heaven” … “in the name of Jesus Christ,” the invocation suggested that the Burbank City Council was a Christian body, and from this it could be inferred that the council was advancing a religious belief. In other words, the court held that the invocation impermissibly conveyed a message that Christianity was being advanced over other religions.

Although the court struck down the sectarian invocation, at the same time it acknowledged that not all legislative invocations violated the Establishment Clause. It traced the practice of legislative prayer in the United States from colonial times and referenced the fact that since 1875, California law has required the California Senate and Assembly to each employ a chaplain. It further held that public agencies could continue to begin their meetings with non-sectarian invocations.

Based on Rubin, the City Council can authorize its meetings to commence with an invocation, so long as the invocation is non-sectarian.

California cities that have allowed invocations have approached them differently. The following is a representative sample of just some of the approaches:

• Use of police chaplains.
• No specific invocation, but a moment of silence.
• The Mayor selects someone at random to give the invocation.
• The City Clerk gives the invocation.
• The Mayor arranges for a member of the clergy to present the invocation or a member of the Council gives it at the Mayor’s direction.
• A local church obtains ministers for the entire year and provides the city with a schedule.
• City staff contacts clergy from a list and makes necessary arrangements.
• Local ministerial association signs up ministers on a rotating basis.
• Staff gives the invocation if the minister does not show up.
• The Police Chief gives the invocation.

In addition to the above, California cities have modified their invocation policies following the Rubin decision. These modifications have primarily included the provision of written guidelines to those giving the invocation to ensure that they were done in a non-sectarian fashion.

Should the City Council authorize invocations at the beginning of a regular Council meeting, staff would recommend the following process:

Sign Up
• Establish a sign-up calendar on the City’s webpage (similar to the calendar for presentation of the Colors).
• Members of the Clergy or members of the Brentwood community may sign up to give an invocation on a first come, first serve basis. Persons giving the invocation would be welcomed from many faith traditions, but they should represent a community of faith within the City.
• To ensure that a variety of faith traditions are represented, persons giving invocations may do so only once every quarter.
• Individuals wishing to give an invocation will receive a set of guidelines related to the invocation in light of Rubin v. Burbank and the City Council procedures.

At the Meeting
• The invocation would occur immediately after the pledge of allegiance and before the start of regular Council business.
• Invocations should be long enough to be meaningful, but brief enough that the Council has adequate time to address the issues at the meeting. A suggested time is no more than three minutes.
• If no one signs up to give an invocation at a particular meeting, the City Council may proceed with the remainder of the agenda or hold a moment of silence in lieu of the invocation.

In General
• Invocations would occur only at regular City Council meetings.
• If a presenter fails to comply with the non-sectarian invocation limitation, they will not be permitted to present invocations at future City Council meetings.

Staff believes that the above process would have the least impact on City resources while still allowing the invocations to occur in a constitutional manner.

FISCAL IMPACT
Staff time for setting up web page, maintaining web calendar and providing guidelines to those who sign up to give an invocation will be minimal and handled by existing staff.

Attachments: Resolution
Invocation Policy

RESOLUTION NO.

A RESOLUTION OF THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF BRENTWOOD APPROVING CITY COUNCIL/ADMINISTRATIVE POLICY NO. 110-2 (INVOCATION POLICY)

WHEREAS, the Brentwood City Council considers an opening invocation an important part of each regular City Council meeting; and

WHEREAS, a California Court of Appeals decision, binding on the City, requires that invocations before City Council meetings be non-sectarian in nature (i.e., they must not proselytize, advance, or disparage any one religious belief or faith); and

WHEREAS, the City Council believes that the purpose of an invocation is to recognize the role that freedom of religion has played in the history of our country and the contribution that religious groups make to the quality of life in this community – and not to promote or discourage any particular religious belief; and

WHEREAS, the City Council desires to set forth a policy related to invocations at regular City Council meetings; and

WHEREAS, the City Council is confident that persons who agree to give an invocation consistent with this policy will offer words that respect the laws and institutions that protect the freedoms we all enjoy; and

WHEREAS, for the above reasons, the City Council has determined that persons wishing to give invocations must comply with the policy; and

WHEREAS, the policy is not intended to stifle an invocator’s form of expression, but instead to be sensitive to invocations that may seem offensive to members of the Council or audience.

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED by the City Council of the City of Brentwood that the City Council adopts Council/Administrative Policy No. 110-2 (Invocation Policy) a copy of which is attached hereto as Exhibit “A”.

PASSED, APPROVED AND ADOPTED by the City Council of the City of Brentwood at a meeting held on the ___ day of April 2007 by the following vote:







PURPOSE

This policy sets forth procedures and guidelines for invocations at City Council meetings.

POLICY

Sign Up

• By 5:00 pm on the Wednesday immediately prior to the City Council meeting, persons wishing to give an invocation must sign-up on the City’s webpage calendar or contact the City Clerk’s Office to be included on the calendar.

• Members of the clergy or the Brentwood community may, on a first come, first serve basis, sign up to give an invocation.

• Persons will be welcomed from many faith traditions to give the invocation, but they should represent a community of faith within the City.

• To ensure that a variety of faith traditions are represented, persons giving invocations may do so only once every quarter.

• Individuals wishing to give an invocation will receive those guidelines attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference as Attachment “A” related to the invocation in light of the Rubin v. Burbank, to which they will be expected to abide.

At the Meeting

• The invocation will occur immediately after the pledge of allegiance and before the start of regular City Council business.

• Invocations should be long enough to be meaningful, but brief enough that the Council has adequate time to address the issues at the meeting. A suggested time is no more than three minutes.

• If no one signs up to give an invocation at a particular meeting, the City Council may proceed with the remainder of the Agenda or hold a moment of silence in lieu of the invocation.

In General

• Invocations will occur only at regular meetings of the City Council.

• If a presenter fails to comply with the non-sectarian invocation limitation set forth in the attached guidelines, he or she may not be permitted to continue the invocation and will not be permitted to present invocations at future City Council meetings.


Attachment A

City of Brentwood
City Council Meeting Invocation Guidelines

Thank you for agreeing to give the invocation at a Brentwood City Council meeting.

While the Brentwood City Council considers the opening invocation an important part of each meeting, a California Court of Appeals decision binding on the City requires that the invocation be non-sectarian in nature (i.e., it must not proselytize, advance, or disparage any one religious belief or faith). Among other things, the purpose of these guidelines and the City Council Policy on invocations is to ensure that invocations comply with the law so that we retain the right to open our City Council meetings with words of inspiration and wisdom.

The City Council believes that the purpose of an invocation is to recognize the role that freedom of religion has played in the history of our country and the contribution that religious groups make to the quality of life in this community – and not to promote or discourage any particular religious belief. The City Council is confident that persons who agree to give an invocation consistent with this policy will offer words that respect the laws and institutions that protect the freedoms we all enjoy.

Therefore, members of the community who wish to lead an invocation must craft it so as to avoid references to specific deities or beliefs that are associated with any particular religious faith or denomination. For example, in the appellate decision, an invocation with a specific reference to Jesus Christ was found to violate the U.S. Constitution because it was an explicit invocation of a particular religious belief.

Based on the above reasons, the City Council has determined that persons wishing to give invocations must comply with these guidelines. The guidelines are not intended to stifle an invocator’s form of expression, but instead to comply with our constitution and be sensitive to persons of all faiths.

Invocation Contents
• In respect of the diversity of religious belief (including no belief) in the Brentwood Community, references to specific names are not acceptable (for instance references to “Jesus Christ,” “Allah Jehovah,” “Buddha,” or “Our Father in Heaven”). More generic and inclusive terms such as “God”, “Lord”, “Holy One” and “Creator” are acceptable.
• The invocation may not refer to a particular religious holiday, significant date, holy day or religious event.
• The person giving the invocation may not read or quote from any sectarian book, doctrine or material.
• The person giving the invocation may not use sectarian words or concepts that could reasonably viewed as advancing or favoring one religion over another.
• Invocations should be long enough to be meaningful, but brief enough so that the Council has adequate time to address the issues at the meeting. A suggested time is no more than three minutes.
• Invocations may not only be addressed to a deity, but also may be inspirational to the Council and meeting attendees. Therefore, they need not be wholly prayer, but can include observations or reflections, keeping in mind the three minute length.
• If a presenter fails to comply with the non-sectarian invocation limitation, he or she may not be permitted to continue the invocation and will not be permitted to present invocations at future City Council meetings.

General Procedures
• The regular business of the City Council is scheduled to begin at 7:00 p.m., but the Council may be delayed due to a closed session or workshop held prior to the regular meeting. Please schedule your time to allow for any possible meeting delay.
• If there is room, you may wish to sit in the front row or on an aisle close to the front of the Chambers to make for easier access to the podium.
• The Mayor will announce the flag salute and instruct the audience to remain standing for the invocation.
• After the Pledge you may proceed to the podium to give the invocation.
• When the invocation is over, you are more than welcome to stay for part or all of the meeting. If your schedule precludes you from staying, please feel free to leave at any time.

The City Council appreciates your willingness to work within the restrictions that the courts have imposed on this important part of government meetings. Should the City or any individual not comply with the Policy or Guidelines, the City could be forced to discontinue invocations at City meetings and could be liable for damages in a civil lawsuit. By agreeing to give this invocation, you are also agreeing to abide by these Guidelines and the City Council Policy related to invocations.

Thank you.




 

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