Appeals Court Rules Commissioners Do Not Violate Constitution by Presenting Christian Prayers

JACKSON, Mich. — The full Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a board of county commissioners in Michigan is not violating the Constitution by solely presenting Christian prayers simply because all the commissioners identify as Christian.

“Since the founding of our Republic, Congress, state legislatures, and many municipal bodies have commenced legislative sessions with a prayer,” the 9-6 majority acknowledged.

“Consonant with this historical practice, defendant Jackson County Board of Commissioners opens its public meetings with a prayer that is generally solemn, respectful and reflective. Plaintiff Peter Bormuth claims that this custom violates the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution because the Commissioners themselves offer the invocations. We disagree and affirm the judgment of the district court,” it declared.

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners had been sued in 2013 by local pagan and animist Peter Bormuth, who asserted that the commissioners’ “prayers are unwelcome and severely offensive to [him] as a believer in the pagan religion, which was destroyed by followers of Jesus Christ.”

On a rotational basis, the nine elected commissioners deliver an invocation at the start of each public meeting, and are permitted to present a prayer no matter what their religion. However, as all the commissioners identify as Christian, the prayers are always presented in the name of Jesus.

“Lord, we ask that you would be with us while we conduct the business of Jackson County. Lord, help us to make good decisions that will be best for generations to come,” read one of the example prayers cited by the court.

However, Bormuth says that the prayers make him feel like he is attending a church service and that he is being “forced to worship Jesus Christ,” even though he declines to stand and does not participate. He also objects that Christians “have an exclusive lock on this franchise” because Jackson County is “70 percent Christian.”

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Bormuth filed a legal challenge in an effort to stop the prayers, asserting that they violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” the cited clause reads.

He also contended that the request for those in attendance to rise and bow their heads is coercive.

In 2015, U.S. District Court Judge Marianne Battani ruled against Bormuth, although seemingly reluctantly.

“[T]he court finds that Jackson’s legislative prayer practice does not violate the Establishment Clause. Although the court believes the better practice would be to exclude legislative prayer from governmental proceedings altogether, it is constrained to follow the Supreme Court precedents set forth in Marsh and Greece by upholding the practice presently at issue,” she wrote.

“[T]he Supreme Court has already determined that legislative prayer delivered exclusively according to one religious tradition, even over many years, does not violate the Constitution,” Battani noted.

Bormuth appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which overturned Battani’s ruling 2-1 in concluding that because the prayers have only been Christian, they are an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion.

“[The commission] is preventing participation by religious minorities and endorsing a specific religion,” the majority ruled in February. “The prayer practice is well outside the tradition of historically tolerated prayer, and it coerces Jackson County residents to support and participate in the exercise of religion.”

However, the ruling was appealed to the full 15-member Sixth Circuit, which overturned the panel’s decision on Wednesday.

“At bottom, Bormuth has shown he was offended by the Christian nature of the board’s prayers. But ‘[o]ffense … does not equate to coercion,'” the majority wrote. “Jackson County therefore did not ‘engage in impermissible coercion merely by exposing [Bormuth] to prayer [he] would rather not hear and in which [he] need not participate.’”

“As one of Jackson County’s commissioners stated, ‘Commissioners, as individuals, have a right to pray as we believe.’ Preventing Jackson County’s commissioners from giving prayers of their own choosing detracts from their ability to take ‘a moment of prayer or quiet reflection [to] set their mind to a higher purpose and thereby ease the task of governing,’” it also stated.

The panel noted that the U.S. Supreme Court observed in the 2014 case of Town of Greece v. Galloway that even the prayers presented during government meetings in early America were distinctively Christian.

“The prayers ‘vary in their degree of religiosity’ and often ‘invoke the name of Jesus, the Heavenly Father, or the Holy Spirit,’ but Town of Greece makes clear the Founders embraced these universal and sectarian references as ‘particular means to universal ends,’” the court said.

Read the ruling in full here.

Bormuth says that he will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.


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  • Amos Moses – He>i

    ““prayers are unwelcome and severely offensive to [him] as a believer in the pagan religion, which was destroyed by followers of Jesus Christ.”

    nope …. it was destroyed by being pagan ….

  • james blue

    They should allow prayer to be given by attendees, not just the commissioners.

    • MCrow

      That would potentially allow a non-Christian to pray, though! /s

      • james blue

        I note the /s..

        Well not all taxpayers are Christian, obviously the guy who brought the suit isn’t.

        • MCrow

          The /s is mostly directed at people who claim “religious freedom” while saying Muslims should be banned. Honestly, I’m all for letting anyone lead a prayer. Or no one.

          • Amos Moses – He>i

            excuse me …. the 1st amendment is not a claim …..

          • MCrow

            No, but it must be universally applied

          • Amos Moses – He>i

            or PROHIBIT the free exercise thereof …………….

          • MCrow

            So you’re ok with a neopagan leading prayer?

          • Amos Moses – He>i

            why would i care ……….

          • Jerome Horwitz

            Because you hate Christians and Christianity.

          • MCrow

            I don’t, actually. I hate certain strains of Christianity, just as I hate certain strains of Islam, Buddhism, and atheism. Like, for example, the one I mentioned

          • Jerome Horwitz

            Liar.

          • MCrow

            If demonizing me helps you sleep, go right ahead

          • Jerome Horwitz

            You mean telling the truth?

            I have heard your point before: All or nothing implies you would rather have nothing.

            China’s where you need to be. Not the United States of America.

          • MCrow

            Luckily, people with far more wisdom allow all to live in the US. In terms of religion, if you, personally, on your time, wish to go and preach, spread the gospel, condemn the unrighteous, or even protest funerals, go right ahead. Free speech and religion. If you’re on the taxpayer’s dime and even one cent of that is from someone who doesn’t want you to pray on their time, you are morally obligated to either turn down your paycheck or not do it.

          • Jerome Horwitz

            Wrong. Read the First Amendment.

          • MCrow

            *don’t

            And at least one person was protesting it. In fact…that’s the whole point of why it went to court.

            First Amendment allows freedom of religion, and also prevents the establishment of a religion by the state. So again, you are perfectly allowed to express your religion and practice it, but the state is not allowed to participate. Separation of church and state.

          • Jerome Horwitz

            Christianity existed 1400 years before the USA did, so nobody was creating anything.

            Separation of church and state doesn’t appear in the Constitution.

            Only anti-Christian bigots cite that myth, which makes you a liar as well as a bigot.

          • MCrow

            If we are going with age as the deciding factor, Zoroastrianism predates Judeo-Christian beliefs and has several notable features that later were incorporated, like the idea of heaven, hell, and the messiah.

            And while it is not mentioned, it is easily gathered from combining certain rights and restrictions on the government. For something similar, “Trinity” does not appear in the Bible, nor is it explicitly explained. Nevertheless, it is a cornerstone of Christian theology, and most would argue it is easily gathered from the text.

          • Jerome Horwitz

            None of this is relevant to the topic, just an anti-Christian attack. Flagged.

          • MCrow

            I’m sorry that you regard facts as anti-Christian

          • Jerome Horwitz

            Can someone please explain to me why this guy is allowed to come in here and bash Christians and Christianity?

            Why is this welcome on a Christian website?

          • Jerome Horwitz

            Facts? The only fact here is you are just another atheist who thinks they can change people’s minds by coming into a Christian website and spouting crap nobody here believes except you.

            Go back to JoeMyGod and leave us alone.

    • Are you the one that is going to make that change in their rules of conduct pertaining to the procedure of the meetings? Are you a resident tax payer in their jurisdiction? If not then mind your own business.

      • james blue

        Are you the moderator of the comment section of this public forum where people offer their opinions? If not take your “mind your own business” and… well you know.

        • Jerome Horwitz

          Doug is just as entitled to his opinion as you are.

          • james blue

            Of course he is, but he is the one telling others to shut up.

          • Jerome Horwitz

            As well you should.

        • What I said was MY OPINION.

          Have a nice day.

    • Amos Moses – He>i

      are you a taxpayer in this district? If not why are you opining?

      • james blue

        Are you?

  • The United States of America was founded on Judeo/Christian values and principles and Peter Bormuth knows that. All he is doing is the will of satan looking for his 15 minutes of fame. The court ruled correctly.

    • james blue

      What Judeo/Christian value was the genocide of the native population or the enslavement, torture and murder of blacks?

      No the US was founded on religious freedom, which includes all and no religions.

      BTW are you a taxpayer in this district? If not why are you opining?

      • Amos Moses – He>i

        “are you a taxpayer in this district? If not why are you opining?”

        back at ‘cha sport ……….

        • james blue

          Read his earlier comment.

          • Amos Moses – He>i

            i did ……….

      • What Judeo/Christian value was the genocide of the native population or the enslavement, torture and murder of blacks?——None. It was all done by Satan.

        No the US was founded on religious freedom, which includes all and no religions.—–Not entirely true. Read up on American history.

        • Amen.

          It’s sad when actual American history is ignored for lies from satan. Christian abolitionists (of all races, white, black, etc.) fought to end slavery. Many gave their lives. And that shows the love of God between brethren and how much God loves each one of His children.

          The true racists are the individuals who want us to believe that skin color is a sin which absolutely contradicts the word of God. Behavior is sin. Skin color is not sin. It’s very disrespectful and condescending when true racist wicked people tell others that their skin color is as sinful as behavior God condemns. Father never condemned a skin color, but He does condemn behavior as sinful.

          Thank you for sharing truth brother.

          • Thank you for being my sister in Christ and what you do to share the truth of God and His Holy Word.

          • james blue

            “Christian abolitionists (of all races, white, black, etc.) fought to end slavery”

            Yeah from Christian slave owners. Many of the founders who Mr. Bristow is claiming founded our nation on “Judeo/Christian values” were slave owners.

        • james blue

          By these “Christians” you speak of.

          I have, have you? The first amendment says freedom of religion, it makes no mention of any specific religion, it does however prohibit the enforcement of things like say…Almost all the ten commandments.

          • Sadly you have no idea what you are talking about.

          • james blue

            I know exactly what I’M talking about.

            I pointed out what the founding involved and you claimed that wasn’t Christians, that was the devil. – So was the country founded on Christian values or the devils?

      • Jerome Horwitz

        What Judeo/Christian value was the genocide of the native population or the enslavement, torture and murder of blacks?

        Are you bloody serious? This is absolutely irrelevant at least, a troll at most. Get outta here.

        • james blue

          Deadly serious. If you wish to claim the nation was founded on Christian values you have to look at what that founding involved. You can’t claim “the talk” if you didn’t “walk the walk”.

          I accept Christ as my savior and because of this I refuse to accept that the things involved in our nation’s founding represent Christian values and principles.

          • Jerome Horwitz

            Flagged for blatant trolling.

          • james blue

            Wow.

  • NCOriolesFan

    Hear that Salisbury NC. You can now do the same. Of course the elected don’t any court permission to pray anyway. All Americans are entitled to use the First Amendment to pray.