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Judge Rules in Favor of Humanist Group in Case Challenging Prayer Vigil Led by Florida City Officials

May 25, 2018

For Immediate Release

 

Contact:
David Niose, 202-238-9088, dniose@americanhumanist.org
Monica Miller, 202-238-9088,mmiller@americanhumanist.org

 

 

(Washington, D.C., May. 25, 2018)— Late afternoon yesterday, Judge Timothy J. Corrigan ruled in favor of the American Humanist Association in its case against the City of Ocala for an unconstitutional prayer vigil led by city officials in September 2014.

 

“In sum, under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, the government cannot initiate, organize, sponsor, or conduct a community prayer vigil," explained Judge Corrigan. “That is what happened here.”

 

In September 2016, the American Humanist Association’s Legal Center filed for summary judgment in its lawsuit challenging the City of Ocala's actions in promoting a prayer vigil led by its police department. During the vigil, uniformed police personnel led and participated in religious activities with the approval of the mayor and police chief.

 

The prayer vigil, which was held in September 2014, was promoted by a letter on police department letterhead signed by the police chief and posted on the city’s social media. The chief’s letter urged citizens to attend the vigil, saying the city’s crime problem “requires fervent prayer.” The prayer vigil featured uniformed Ocala police personnel leading prayers, as well as other Christian speakers and evangelical call-and-response prayers and chanting. The city’s mayor and uniformed police officers wearing badges attended the vigil in their official capacities. Local citizens objected to the city’s unconstitutional actions, but the mayor and police chief ignored their concerns.

 

"Police departments shouldn't be endorsing religion, yet that's exactly what the Ocala Police Department did here by sponsoring and promoting a prayer vigil," said David Niose, AHA legal director. "We hope this ruling ensures that prayer rallies in the future will be run by churches, not police departments.

 

Judge Corrigan's order can be viewed here.

 

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Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., the American Humanist Association (AHA) works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other nontheistic Americans. The AHA advances the ethical and life-affirming worldview of humanism, which—without beliefs in any gods or other supernatural forces—encourages individuals to live informed and meaningful lives that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

 

Special thanks to the Louis J. Appignani Foundation for their support of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.

 

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