(UnitedVoice.com) – The US Constitution’s Establishment Clause in the First Amendment prohibits the government from establishing a religion. In other words, there should be a separation between church and state. Opponents of prayer vigils at schools and other public places have long pointed to the clause as a reason why those events are allegedly unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court recently handed atheists a temporary win in a lawsuit against a Florida City. However, the group’s victory could be shortlived if the lower court listens to one of the justices.
City of Ocala v. Rojas
On Monday, March 6, the Supreme Court refused to hear a petition from the city of Ocala, which requested to dismiss a lawsuit brought against it by two individuals, Art Rojas and Lucinda Hale. The two citizens are members of the American Humanist Association, an organization that pushes a progressive ideology for atheists. They sued the city after the police department organized a prayer vigil in the wake of a 2014 shooting that injured several children. The lawsuit alleges the city violated the Establishment Clause.
Attorneys for Ocala wanted the Supreme Court to clarify whether “psychic or emotional offense allegedly caused by observation of religious messages” was enough for a court to grant the citizens standing. The city argued before the high court that it was not sufficient after a district court and the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit determined they did have standing.
Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote an accompanying opinion in the case of the City of Ocala v. Rojas. The justice stated the legal theory the lower courts used to grant the case standing was defunct. The “Lemon test” requires courts to consider whether a government action has a secular purpose, whether it inhibited or advanced a religion, or if it entangled the government with religion when trying to determine if it violates the Establishment Clause.
Gorsuch stated the 2022 opinion in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District made it clear the Lemon test was no longer valid. In that case, the justices determined a former football coach was allowed to lead his team in prayer as long as it was voluntary. The police department didn’t force Rojas and Hale to participate in the city’s prayer vigil, making it voluntary.
Ultimately, Gorsuch said the lower court was bound by the Kennedy precedent, so there was no reason to intervene. Justice Clarence Thomas disagreed with the majority. He wanted to hear the case and wrote a five-page dissenting opinion.
Copyright 2023, UnitedVoice.com