It was a crime spree in Ocala, Florida, several years back that left multiple children injured in shootings, and although police knew the identities of the alleged shooters, they were unable to convince witnesses to come forward.
So the chief, the late Greg Graham, listened to a recommendation from the NAACP that the community hold a private prayer event with the goal of obtaining statements that would allow the appropriate prosecutions.
With that goal, several individuals in the community set up the meeting, and Graham encouraged the attempt to obtain justice.
But now the American Center for Law and Justice is at an appeals court seeking to overturn a lower court’s claim that “government officials can no longer encourage citizens to pray amid a difficult time in their community, and volunteer chaplains can no longer lead those in their community in a time of prayer.”
The ACLU said recently its opening brief in the fight has been filed at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“Time and again, the Supreme Court has upheld government involvement in and/or association with prayer including legislative prayer, prayer in the military, prayers offered by chaplains, and calls to prayer following a crime spree or other tragic event,” the ACLJ explained.
For instance, in one decision the high court found: “[T]he Establishment Clause permits a nondiscriminatory practice of prayer at the beginning of a town council session” and “Simply having religious content or promoting a message consistent with a religious doctrine does not run afoul of the Establishment Clause.”
Beyond that issue, which should be able to be resolved easily, the ACLJ said another factor is that atheists who complained about the effort to crack down on crime claimed no other injury but being offended.
And specifically, their offense is “self-inflicted.”
“The plaintiffs testified that they opposed prayer but attended the community prayer vigil in order to observe the prayer. No one required them to attend the vigil – in fact, they were quite free to avoid it – so why should it be the fault of anyone else if they were offended?” the ACLJ said. “As Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch reiterated just last year, ‘[t]he presence of a disagreement, however sharp and acrimonious it may be, is insufficient by itself to meet Art. III’s [standing] requirements.’”
After the NAACP suggested a prayer effort, a vigil was planned and organized by private citizens, including volunteer chaplains and more.
The organizers requested, and obtained, a statement from Graham encouraging unity.
He also responded to those who later became plaintiffs that he was not allowed to cancel the private event. And his statement was similar to others he had issued encouraging resident to attend others events in the city.
The plaintiffs in the case include Daniel and Lucinda Hale, and court records show they “had never attended any other public gathering in the public square in Ocala.”
They said the “wanted” to attend to observe, “not because they wanted to participate in the vigil.”
The ACLJ explained, “The plaintiffs sought out what they perceived would be offensive conduct and attended for the sole purpose of viewing that allegedly offensive conduct in order to bring suit. Such conduct on the part of a plaintiff constitutes an attempt to manufacture standing that cannot satisfy [constitutional] jurisdictional requirements.”
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