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 March 7, 2023

Supreme Court declines appeal over Florida prayer vigil, sending case back to lower courts

On Monday, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal filed by a Florida community.

The community was being sued by a group of people who claimed it violated the Constitution when it conducted a prayer vigil in 2014 in response to a local massacre, according to The Conservative Brief.

“The court turned away a dispute over a vigil held by uniformed police officers in Florida that included Christian prayers after a local shooting spree, with conservative justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas both writing opinions suggesting they believe the court should take up a similar case in the future,” NBC News reported.

“The court rejected an appeal brought by the city of Ocala seeking to dismiss a lawsuit claiming that the event violated the Establishment Clause, a provision of the Constitution’s First Amendment that prohibits government endorsement of religion," the publication went on.

"The case now returns to lower courts, where it could be dismissed on alternative grounds.”

Ocala, represented by the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative legal group, wanted the court to clarify that plaintiffs in such cases do not have legal standing simply because they object to the message being conveyed.

They call it 'offended observer standing,' and they claim that the plaintiffs attended the event with the objective of causing legal harm.

If the Supreme Court accepts Ocala's arguments, it will make Establishment Clause challenges more difficult. The court has a 6-3 conservative majority that firmly supports religious liberty and has recently eroded the separation of church and state.

The action was filed by married couple Lucinda and Daniel Hale, Frances Jean Porgal, and Art Rojas. Daniel Hale and Porgal have since died.

The American Humanist Society, which fights for the rigorous absence of religion from the public realm, represents the plaintiffs, who are atheists.

The court battle is around the city's response to a shooting spree in 2014 that harmed numerous youngsters. The police chief and other members of the department prepared a vigil in the town square and invited members of the public to attend via the department's Facebook page.

According to the plaintiffs, the celebration included Christian prayers delivered by police department chaplains.

In 2015, U.S. Magistrate Judge Philip Lammens of the Middle District of Florida found in favor of the plaintiffs, saying that the case was not about the individual officials' freedom to pray in public or the goal of the vigil, which was to encourage crime reduction.

Instead, it is about whether the city and its officials "could organize and promote the vigil … when the focus of the event was prayer, which, as the law has consistently recognized, is profoundly religious."

Written By:
Charlotte Tyler

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