SCOTUS Allows Atheist Case Against City to Proceed

( – Two plaintiffs suing the city of Ocala, Florida, got a temporary win from the U.S. Supreme Court on March 7th when the court rejected Ocala’s request to dismiss the suit.

Two members of the American Humanist Association, Lucinda Hale and Art Rojas brought the suit against Ocala. They claimed that city police officers organized public prayers in uniform. The plaintiffs believe this violates the Constitution’s First Amendment.

Attorneys for Ocala rejected the city’s request to dismiss the lawsuit, but that does not necessarily mean the plaintiffs will prevail. The case will now be sent back to the lower courts.

SCOTUS Justice Neil Gorsuch said in a statement that the lower courts should rule against the plaintiffs.

Ocala asked the court to answer the question of whether “psychic or emotional offense” was sufficient grounds for the plaintiffs to sue the city. While the court ruled against Ocala, it ruled only that the plaintiffs have “standing.” That is, they have the right to sue.

The Supreme Court’s ruling does not decide any of the issues in this case and takes no position on the merits of the claim. It only allows the lawsuit to proceed in the lower courts.

The plaintiffs accuse Ocala of violating the establishment clause of the First Amendment. That clause says the government shall not establish a state-endorsed religion. Rojas and Hale, the plaintiffs, argue that a police-organized prayer vigil violated the First Amendment, as it could be seen as a government endorsement of a specific religion.

The vigil was organized in reaction to a shooting in 2014 that left several children injured.

While the Supreme Court’s rejection of Ocala’s request to dismiss the case means the case can go forward, the plaintiffs seem unlikely to prevail. In his accompanying statement, Gorsuch said that the legal test lower courts used to originally give the plaintiffs standing to sue was outmoded. That theory is called the “Lemon test.”

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