Court Law Lawsuit

Ocala Case To Defend An Anti-Violence Prayer Vigil Hopes To Go Before The Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court is soon expected to render a decision in a Florida case involving a prayer vigil to honor police that triggered liberals.
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The U.S. Supreme Court is soon expected to render a decision in a Florida case involving a prayer vigil to honor police that triggered liberals.

The case dates back to 2014, as The Free Press has reported when then-Chief Greg Graham of the Ocala Police Department organized a prayer vigil for government and civic leaders amid a rash of shootings that injured several children.

OPD publicly promoted the event, which was held on public property in downtown Ocala in an attempt to get witnesses to come forward.

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Liberal atheists asserted at the time that Graham, who died in a 2020 plane crash, violated the First Amendment. The American Humanist Association sued the city. They won in the lower court, and a federal judge ordered the city to pay each plaintiff $2. 

But the city has kept appealing, all the way to the Supreme Court.

Last June, as the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, weighed the city’s appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered its ruling in a Washington state case involving a high school football coach fired for leading prayers after games.

The high court ruled that the Constitution neither requires nor allows governments to suppress religious expression along such lines.

The 11th Circuit then sent the Ocala case back to the district court to apply the new standard handed down by the Supreme Court.

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In September, the city opted to go before the Supreme Court for a review of the initial decision.

The city wants the justices to determine if “psychic or emotional offense allegedly caused by observation of religious messages [is] an injury sufficient to confer standing … including where the offended party deliberately seeks out the exposure in question.”

In other words, city officials want the court to decide if the atheists can sue by claiming to be offended by deliberately attending an event that they were sure to find offensive.

Abigail Southerland, a lawyer with the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative nonprofit public interest law firm that represents the city, answered no.

“This is the only area of law in which ‘offended observer’ status has been recognized by lower courts,” Southerland told the Epoch Times.

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But, she added, “the Supreme Court has indicated that offended observer standing is not sufficient standing to bring an Establishment Clause case or claim.”

The next action is that the Supreme Court will decide on Friday whether it actually will hear the case. At least four justices must say yes to make that happen. Southerland believed they would find the city’s argument persuasive.

It is “very customary for cities to host community prayer vigils in response to tragic events or crime sprees—it happens across the country all the time … in response to difficult times,” she told the Times.

“I think the trend [of the Supreme Court] to return to an original interpretation of the Constitution, rather than to expand its application, will be helpful, hopefully, to us in this case.”

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