Supreme Court Steps In With Monumental Ruling on Prayer Vigil Dispute

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Despite a group of people who claim it violated the Constitution when it held a prayer vigil in response to a local shooting in 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court in its ruling on Monday declined to hear an appeal brought by a Florida city.

“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 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, asked the court to say 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 allege that the plaintiffs deliberately attended the event with the intention of suffering a legal injury. If the Supreme Court embraces Ocala’s arguments, it would make it more difficult to mount Establishment Clause challenges. The court has a 6-3 conservative majority that strongly backs religious rights and has in recent cases reduced the separation of church and state,” the outlet added.

NBC News continued with the following details about this case:

The lawsuit was filed by married couple Lucinda and Daniel Hale, Frances Jean Porgal and Art Rojas. Daniel Hale and Porgal have since died. The plaintiffs, who are atheists, are represented by the American Humanist Association, a group that advocates for strict exclusion of religion from the public sphere.

The legal fight centers around the city’s response to a 2014 shooting spree in which several children were injured. The police chief, as well as other members of the police department, planned a vigil in the town square and used the department’s Facebook page to invite members of the public to attend. The plaintiffs allege that the event included Christian prayers delivered by police department chaplains.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Philip Lammens of the Middle District of Florida ruled for the plaintiffs in 2015, noting that the case was not about the right of the individual officials to pray in public or about the purpose of the vigil, which was to encourage a reduction in crime. Instead, it is about whether the city and its officials “could organize and promote the vigil … where the focus of the event was prayer, which, as the law has repeatedly recognized, is fundamentally religious.”

There was a prominent case under consideration by the Supreme Court last week that could have repercussions on the upcoming election in 2024.

There is a case before the court that is closely watched and may have an impact on the outcome of the 2024 presidential election as Republicans in North Carolina, as well as the administration of President Biden, are required to file additional briefs.

Following a brief order from the court, the parties were ordered to file “supplemental letter briefs” addressing the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction over the case, given that the North Carolina Supreme Court has agreed to rehear the redistricting dispute at its center.

“On the one side of the legal fight is North Carolina Republican legislative leaders, and on the other side are voting rights groups, North Carolina voters, and state elections officials. The Justice Department backed voting rights groups in the case. The court set a deadline of March 20 for the additional filings to be submitted,” CBS News reported.

“The case before the Supreme Court, known as Moore v. Harper, stems from the redrawing of the congressional map by North Carolina’s Republican-led legislature after the 2020 Census. The state supreme court struck down the proposed voting boundaries as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander that violated the North Carolina Constitution,” the outlet added.

According to some, the case could upend the 2024 presidential election.

“Conservative Supreme Court justices appeared skeptical about a state court’s decision to strike down Republican-drawn congressional districts in North Carolina, but it seemed unlikely a majority would embrace a broad theory that could upend election law nationwide. The appeal brought by North Carolina Republicans asks the court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, to embrace a hitherto obscure legal argument called the ‘independent state legislature theory,’ which could strip state courts of the power to strike down certain election laws enacted by state legislatures,” as reported by the New Yorker.

“The independent state legislature argument hinges on language in the Constitution that says election rules ‘shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof.’ Supporters of the theory, which has never been endorsed by the Supreme Court, say the language supports the notion that, when it comes to federal election rules, legislatures have ultimate power under state law, potentially irrespective of potential constraints imposed by state constitutions,” the outlet added.

“Backed by Republican leaders at the N.C. General Assembly, the crux of the argument is that they and all other state legislators should have much broader power to write election laws, with courts mostly not allowed to stop them by ruling their actions unconstitutional. They’ve been tight-lipped about the case since filing it this spring, mostly preferring to avoid commenting on it to reporters and instead doing their talking through legal briefs. Beyond redistricting the case also has the potential to change how North Carolina and the 49 other states handle everything from early voting and mail-in ballots rules to voter ID, recounts, post-election audits, and anything else that could possibly affect an election,” the outlet added.


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