On Monday, about two weeks after allegations surfaced that Ontario Mayor Paul Leon was having an extramarital affair with a city employee, Leon issued a vague apology for “errors in his private life.”
You could try to connect the dots, but why don’t you just let Pastor Larry Enriguez, who delivered the invocation at Tuesday’s meeting.
Enriguez spoke at length about Jesus’ words to a mob prepared to lynch an adultress: “He who is without sin, cast the first stone.”
What surprises me more than the mayor’s alleged behavior and the pastor’s seemingly thinly veiled prayer is that government invocations continue to mention a specific god, in this case Jesus. Praying to anything more than an indecipherable, ambiguous diety was ruled unconstitutional by a Los Angeles Superior Court in 2000, and upheld by higher courts. Back in 2005, I spoke with each city clerk in San Bernardino County about whether they were adhering. About half, including Ontario, discouraged sectarian prayer, half didn’t and a few lacked invocations all together.
The City Council meeting began with a prayer.
“Lord Jesus, we’d like to give you thanks and praise,” Rialto Councilman Joe Sampson said.
Sampson’s words at the Dec. 7 meeting are a double-edged sword—truth to Christians but not necessarily to all in the Council Chambers. To local governments, they are a legal liability.
Twenty months after the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a ruling that bars religion-specific prayers at government meetings, many cities continue to allow them.
This legal ruling was actually my first introduction to Irv Rubin, the former leader of the Jewish Defense League who had already been dead three years. The real miracle here is that Rubin, who filed the lawsuit that led to the ruling, and I actually agree on something. Council meetings are no place for communal worship; those on the council who are God-fearing believers should pray privately before approaching the dais. Nobody should be feel uncomfortable about civic participation. This is, however, an incredibly tricky issue to police—hardly worth the resources and even harder to control.
Montclair told local religious leaders their prayers could not reference their particular faith.
“You know what? They still do it,” City Clerk Donna Jackson said.
The only guarantee, Jackson believes, would be to strip meetings of prayer altogether.
“Of course, we decided not to do that,” she said. “But that is the only way it would work. You can’t regulate it.”