SCOTUS declines to hear case involving atheists’ offense at police prayer vigil

Tuesday, March 7, 2023 | Tag Cloud

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by Karen Faulkner, Worthy News Correspondent

(Worthy News) – The US Supreme Court has refused to intervene in a case involving atheists who filed suit against Florida’s city of Ocala police department for holding a public prayer vigil after drive-by shootings that injured several children in 2014, CNBC reports.

The case of Ocala v. Rojas arose after atheists Art Rojas and Lucinda Hale
saw a post on the Ocala Police Department Facebook page informing of a prayer vigil being organized by the city in light of the shootings. Although a community minister led the vigil, the Ocala police chief actively encouraged people to attend.

Arguing that the prayer vigil violated the Establishment Clause, establishing freedom of religion, Rojas filed suit in the District court.

In 2018, the federal court ruled in favor of atheists on the grounds that secular government bodies should not become involved with religion.

In 2022, the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit upheld the plaintiffs’ standing to sue Ocala city – but sent the case back to the lower court to reconsider its earlier decision in light of the new SCOTUS ruling in favor of a high school football coach who prayed after games in his capacity as a public school teacher. With the plaintiffs’ case now pending, the city of Ocala went on to ask the SCOTUS to rule that “psychic or emotional offense allegedly caused by observation of religious messages” is not sufficient reason to sue, given the plaintiffs voluntarily attended the vigil and knew they would likely be offended.

While the high court declined to take the case, Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas provided comments which indicated they were not convinced the plaintiffs suffered true injury.

“It should be clear that, ‘[i]n a large and diverse country, offense can be easily found, Justice Gorsuch wrote. “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.”

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