Supreme Court refuses to hear case regarding prayer vigil

March 13, 2023

In 2014, police in Ocala, Florida helped to organize a prayer vigil after two young children were shot. That didn't go over well with some local atheists, who filed a lawsuit in response.

While this led to a fight over whether or not the atheists have standing to sue, the Supreme Court announced last week that it won't be getting involved. 

City challenges right to sue

According to Fox News, Lucinda Hale and Art Rojas are members of the American Humanist Association, and they accused the city of having violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.

Their complaint focused on police chaplains who prayed and sang at the event while in uniform, something the pair alleged made them feel excluded.

The City of Ocala responded by arguing that the atheists lacked standing to sue, a position with which both the district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit disagreed.

This resulted in the city asking that the Supreme Court review those rulings in light of Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, a case from last year regarding public prayer by a high school football coach.

Justice Gorsuch: Lemon test no longer in effect

Fox News noted that although the Supreme Court rejected Ocala's request, Justice Neil Gorsuch authored an accompanying statement in which he suggested that legal basis for Hale and Rojas to sue, known as "the Lemon test," no longer exists.

"As this Court explained in Kennedy, the Lemon test on which the District Court relied is no longer good law," Gorsuch wrote. "As this Court explained in Kennedy, the Lemon test on which the District Court relied is no longer good law."

Meanwhile, The Washington Times reported that an attorney for Hale and Rojas argued in a brief that the "case is not about protecting atheists from offense.

Rather, the attorney insisted that "[i]t is about protecting prayer from government intrusion and the government from tyranny."

"Hurt feelings"

Justice Clarence Thomas sounded skeptical of such claims, writing, "Federal courts are authorized 'to adjudge the legal rights of litigants in actual controversies,' not hurt feelings."

Gorsuch seemed to agree, saying "It should be clear that, ‘[i]n a large and diverse country, offense can be easily found. Really, most every governmental action probably offends somebody."

"No doubt, too, that offense can be sincere, sometimes well taken, even wise. But recourse for disagreement and offense does not lie in federal litigation," the justice continued.

"Instead, in a society that holds among its most cherished ambitions mutual respect, tolerance, self-rule, and democratic responsibility, an ‘offended viewer’ may ‘avert his eyes’ or pursue a political solution," he added.

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
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