City Council Invocations

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There has been much discussion about separation of Church and State lately, with Irvine and now Lake Forest approving invocations to start their council meetings. To the credit of the City Council of Newport Beach, the city has a “long tradition” of beginning each City Council meeting with an invocation.

A little history lesson is in order. One of the most famous of our founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, said at the constitutional convention on June 28, 1787 “In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for Divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered… do we imagine we no longer need His assistance?

In this way our country was “birthed” and our founding documents reflect this wisdom. Our Supreme Court opens in prayer, as does Congress; even our president is sworn in on the Bible.

As of last Tuesday, Lake Forest became the 26th city in Orange County that has an invocation. At the city council meeting, there were people giving testimony about how it would only destroy the fabric of the community and turn citizen against citizen. Because people were seeking God’s wisdom and guidance for the City Council?

Now as a man of faith, I think that it is rather arrogant to NOT have an invocation prior to carrying on the business of the public. It implies that the council (and therefore the city) does not need God’s guidance (or “Providence” to use Thomas Jefferson’s lingo).

The invocation is not meant to “preach” to the hearers at the meetings, but to acknowledge God’s ultimate control of our lives, and ask for wisdom and guidance.

To put it as Benjamin Franklin did on another day at the Constitutional Convention of 1787:

“God governs in the affairs of man. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured in the Sacred Writings that except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. I firmly believe this. I also believe that, without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel”

Now the courts have put rules in place that restrict what you can say in the invocations and guidelines set by Rubin v. City of Burbank, a 2002 California appellate court ruling that said prayer may not refer to a specific religion. The city of Newport Beach has adopted rules that follow the court’s guidelines.

Typical of the courts, they put a set of rules together that tell you what you cannot do. Here are the rules from Newport based on this court action:

  • The tone, tenor and content of the invocation would not, to a reasonable person, be considered as advancing or disparaging a specific religion.
  • The invocation does not refer to terms associated with a specific religion, sect or deity such as “Jesus Christ.” “Allah” or “Our Father in Heaven.”
  • The invocation does not refer to a particular religious holiday, significant date, holy day or religious event.
  • The person giving the invocation does not read or quote from any sectarian book, doctrine or material

In light of all this I wanted to wish you a happy day that chocolate bunnies are prevalent where they celebrate a particular person dying that doesn’t stay dead, therefore paying your way through the pearly gates!

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  1. Just because we’re big doesn’t mean we are infallable. We still have to make the right decisions, and we can make mistakes. It is good that civic leaders take a moment to remind themselves and everyone present that we all need help making the right decisions.