WASHINGTON, D.C. – For the second time in three years the longstanding tradition of local legislative prayer could be sent back to the U.S. Supreme Court. A Pagan activist sued to stop county commissioners in Jackson County, Michigan from opening their meetings with voluntary prayer arguing it establishes religion, even though the Supreme Court already unanimously protected legislative prayer in 2014. Becket, along with leading religious liberty scholar Professor Michael McConnell of Stanford Law School, filed a friend-of-the-court brief today explaining that local legislative prayer does not violate the Constitution.
A Pagan activist, Peter Bormuth has sued more than six times in the past few years against various governmental bodies and nonprofits, including suing a community college because it did not give him special treatment as a “druidic bard” at poetry readings, and suing a local nonprofit nature center after he sent an email threatening staff because he thought they shouldn't use a golf cart. His latest lawsuit, Bormuth v. Jackson County, tries to force individual county commissioners to stop praying.
“Just three years ago the Supreme Court unanimously supported legislative prayer,” said Daniel Blomberg, counsel at Becket, and lead attorney in this case. “There’s nothing unconstitutional about opening a meeting in prayer. And some people would say that government needs all the help it can get.”
The case, which will be heard at the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, could come into conflict with Lund v. Rowan County, another legislative prayer case currently at the Fourth Circuit. If the two courts rule differently, another Supreme Court case is very likely, even though the Court unanimously supported legislative prayer in Town of Greece v. Galloway just three years ago.
In this case, Bormuth, who represents himself, lost in federal district court, but won in a 2-1 decision at the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The full Sixth Circuit then spontaneously scheduled the case for argument before the entire 14-judge court.
“Sometimes the squeaky wheel shouldn’t get the grease,” added Blomberg. “Disagreements about religion cannot be used as an excuse to banish religious activity entirely from public life. If courts would simply reconnect the First Amendment with its historical roots, there wouldn’t be so many divisive church-state lawsuits.”
The full 14-judge Sixth Circuit will hear the case on June 14 in Cincinnati.