Humanist Group Continues Legal Battle Against Florida Police Department for Hosting Community Prayer Vigil

Repentance Credit Matt BrunkOCALA, Fla. — A prominent humanist group is seeking summary judgment in a lawsuit against a Florida police department for hosting and promoting a community prayer vigil in 2014, which it asserts is an unconstitutional government entanglement with religion.

The American Humanist Association (AHA) had sued the Ocala Police Department in November 2014 two months after it held the vigil, which was meant to combat a wave of crime in the city.

“We are facing a crisis in the City of Ocala and Marion County that requires fervent prayer to show unity and help in this senseless crime spree that is affecting our community,” read a letter posted to the Department website and social media pages, and signed by Police Chief Greg Graham.

“I am urging you all to please support the very important ‘Community Prayer Vigil’ … to be held in our Downtown Square located in the heart of the city,” it said.

AHA then contacted Graham to demand the removal of the letter, but he refused. Mayor Kent Guinn stood by Graham.

“There is nothing in the Constitution to prohibit us from having this vigil,” he allegedly wrote in response to one complaint. “Not only are we not canceling it, we are trying to promote it and have as many people as possible to join us.”

Therefore, the prayer gathering went forward, which generated several hundred attendees. According to AHA, some speakers included officers with the Ocala Police Department, who “preached Judeo-Christian religion to the crowd in a style consistent with revivalist and evangelical religion and participated in religious worship, praising God, calling for God’s assistance, and encouraging verbal participation and responsive chanting from the crowd.”

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In November 2014, AHA sued the Department, asserting that its actions “had the effect of favoring and promoting theistic religion, particularly monotheistic religion, over non-theistic religion and beliefs.”

It called for an injunction against government involvement in or promotion of further religious events, punitive monetary damages from the mayor and chief, and a declaratory judgment that the police department’s acts violated the Establishment Clause.

The clause declares that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

The city sought to have the lawsuit dismissed, but last July, U.S. District Court Judge Philip Lammens, nominated to the bench by Barack Obama, rejected the request.

“The First Amendment prevents the government, in its effort to protect religious freedom, from carrying on government sponsored religious activity,” he wrote. “As ‘the quintessential religious practice,’ the state cannot advance prayer activities without the implication that the state is violating the Establishment Clause.”

Now, AHA is requesting summary judgment—that Lammens rule in their favor without the need for a trial.

“The involvement of the police department makes the city’s endorsement of prayer a particularly flagrant violation of the Establishment Clause,” Monica Miller, senior counsel at the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, said in a statement. “The police department initiated the city’s prayer vigil and uniformed police personnel led prayers, which creates a coercive environment that is offensive and hostile to non-Christian citizens.”

As previously reported, throughout America’s early history, a number of the Founding Fathers issued proclamations calling inhabitants to prayer, including in 1798, when President John Adams proclaimed a national day of humiliation, prayer and fasting.

“As the safety and prosperity of nations ultimately and essentially depend on the protection and blessing of Almighty God, and the national acknowledgment of this truth is not only an indispensable duty which the people owe to Him,” he wrote, “…this duty, at all times incumbent, is so especially in seasons of difficulty and of danger, when existing or threatening calamities—the just judgments of God against prevalent iniquity—are a loud call to repentance and reformation.”

President Abraham Lincoln also proclaimed a National Fast Day in 1863.

“[I]t is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord,” his proclamation read.

“[I]nsomuch we know that by His Divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people,” Lincoln said.

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  • Grace Kim Kwon

    America needs prayers offered to the one true God Almighty in Jesus’ name for salvation and safety. American humanists and atheists hurt the nation and the civilization by opposing something so good and vital to all. People should not listen to villains and do what is right and pray to God everywhere. It’s not a free nation if one cannot host a prayer meeting.

    • paganpat

      Americans need to get off their knees and quit giving superstition credibility and start reading our constitutional laws that are make up of rational beings instead of flat earth supernatural mythologists. Science proves nothing fails like prayer!

      • Grace Kim Kwon

        You are wrong. America has only blasphemy and nudism and sexual perversion and infanticide and suicide as its core value when the nation has no Christianity because Christianity alone is the Western civilization’s only sane conscience. Man is worthless if he despises his conscience. America is a child of Christian Europe, receiving everything useful from Christian Britain. The West including USA was far superior only because of the Church who has the glorious knowledge of the one true God whom the Holy Bible revealed.

        You guys would have been just another case of illiterate savages like the rest if you had no Christianity. Today’s Western culture places men in women’s washrooms against science. No Christianity = No quest for objective truth. Poor your Christian forefathers. What shameful descendants to have. Even pagans do not bash their poor illiterate ancestors but secular Westerners bash their superb Christian ancestors because they hate Christianity, the only good thing on earth. Western secularism is worse than paganism. You need to repent of your sin to get saved. Read the Gospel of John.

        • paganpat

          I have read the gospel of John, and the whole stone age book it came
          from… How do you think I became an Atheist?

          • Grace Kim Kwon

            By not-reading and not-studying anything with honesty. Anyone can be atheist by not-thinking.

  • hytre64✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    As this prayer vigil did not promote a specific religion, court rulings are already in favor of the police.

    • Ambulance Chaser

      Oh? Which rulings would those be? I’m not aware of any.

      • hytre64✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

        Try the case of Town of Greece v. Galloway, where the USSC said that it was constitutional for the town to open public meetings with a prayer.

        • Ambulance Chaser

          Okay, and? That case says nothing about police departments and prayer vigils.

          • hytre64✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

            It basically says that it OK for a government institution to have prayer as long as it is not advocating a particular religion.

          • Ambulance Chaser

            No, it “basically says” that prayers are permitted before city council meetings as long as every religion gets a chance to conduct one.

            You can’t extrapolate SCOTUS rulings out as far as you possibly can stretch them. Or do you think Stone v. Graham, Santa Fe v. Doe, and Engel v. Vitale held that no religion is allowed on any government property?

          • Amos Moses

            because Dred Scott only dealt with blacks in Minnesota …..

          • Ambulance Chaser

            No, it dealt with fugitive slaves.

            You can’t just make up what cases hold and believe that. Their rulings are quite clear. They’re written right in there.

          • Amos Moses

            Yep … and so your previous comment is also off point ….

  • This style ten and six

    Did the prayer vigil reduce crime? Some statistics would be nice.

    • paganpat

      All scientific studies show prayer fails.

  • paganpat

    Blasphemy is great! Its our first amendment right!
    Nudism is great! Don’t knock it unless you try it, join a nudist colony and see!
    Sexual perversion is a matter of taste, If you don’t have any you have no taste!
    infanticide= wasn’t that the dark ages where religion ruled and they burned pregnant women!
    Suicide= If you had the power, wouldn’t your conscience try to prevent it? Your god has none
    which answers your last dribble.