A&A: When a public official works remotely from a religious institution

When a public official works remotely from a religious institution

Q: May a local water district, subject to the Brown Act, allowed a director to participate telephonically where the remote site (in this case Palmyra, NY) is a facility which is part of the Mormon Church.  In this case the remote site is the Visitors Center of Hill Cumorah, which displays religious symbols, shows films of the history of the LDS, holds meetings not open to the public on occasion, is generally open to the public during the day, but not evening hours, has mormon literature displayed and visible.  They also have people who approach you and ask questions and attempt conversion.

It’s unclear if the teleconference is being held in a separate room or in their main entrance way.

A: I am not aware of any restrictions in the Brown Act that would prohibit a board member from participating telephonically in a public meeting from a religious facility like the one you describe below.  It also seems unlikely that such conduct — which presumably would not be apparent to members of the public attending the meeting — would violate the Establishment Cause of the First Amendment.  (To satisfy the Establishment Clause a governmental practice must (1) reflect a clearly secular purpose; (2) have a primary effect that neither advances nor inhibits religion; and (3) avoid excessive government entanglement with religion.  Committee for Public Ed. & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, 413 U. S. 756, 773 (1973).)