Atheists have lost a government prayer case which sets the stage for possible Supreme Court review.
For decades, the Board of Commissioners in Jackson County, Michigan, has opened its sessions with an invocation done by rotating county commissioners – an arrangement challenged in 2013 by atheists, but then upheld this week by the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In a similar ruling in 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Township of Greece, New York, which called on volunteer pastors to open government meetings with prayer.
First Liberty Institute senior counsel Ken Klukowski explains arguments by opponents in the Jackson County case.
"[They argued that] if the prayer is offered by elected leaders instead of by paid chaplains or volunteer clergy, [that] if the prayers are offered by governmental officials, then somehow that becomes 'coercive' in violation of the Establishment Clause," he tells OneNewsNow.
Prayer opponents could, on the other hand, ignore the prayers and choose not to be offended out of respect for people of faith – but Klukowski says that not likely to happen.
"It's part of a broader cultural trend where people are saying if something offends [them], it must be illegal – and they're bringing that into the prayer context," says the attorney. "But as the Supreme Court explicitly said in its 2014 case ... no one likes to be offended, but offense does not equate to coercion."
First Liberty also represents Rowan County, North Carolina, in its prayer case in which the Fourth Circuit ruled against the government officials. That county will decide soon whether to appeal to the Supreme Court.
According to Klukowski, the two different rulings set the stage for an appeal to the higher court if Rowan County does appeal.