In Bormuth v. County of  Jackson, (6th Cir., Sept. 6, 2017),  the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals sitting en banc in a 9-6 decision upheld the invocation practices of the Jackson County, Michigan Board of Commissioners.  At issue was whether the Establishment Clause is violated when invocations– virtually all of them Christian– are offered by elected Commissioners themselves rather than by a chaplain or invited clergy.  Judge Griffin’s majority opinion reasoned:There is no support for [plaintiff’s] granular view of legislative prayer. In this regard, neither Marsh nor Town of Greece restricts who may give prayers in order to be consistent with historical practice….That the prayers reflect the individual Commissioners’ religious beliefs does not mean the Jackson County Board of Commissioners is “endorsing” a particular religion, Christianity or otherwise. For one, while all the Commissioners presumably believe in Jesus Christ, the faiths of Christianity are diverse, not monolithic. The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century spawned an explosion of Christian faiths. Many of those practicing these new Christian faiths sought religious freedom in America and found refuge from the tyranny inflicted by sectarian governments….We do not know the religious faiths of the 2013-2014 Jackson County Commissioners. The nine “Christian” Commissioners may have included Roman Catholics, Southern Baptists, Mormons, Quakers, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, and others.Judges Rogers and Sutton wrote concurring opinions.Judge Moore’s dissent argued:In the case before us today, the majority is dangerously close to permitting exactly what Justice Alito said Town of Greece obviously does not permit—government officials instructing citizens to participate in sectarian prayer before commencing government proceedings. There is no daylight between polling place workers asking individuals to pray before casting their ballots, as in Justice Alito’s example, and county commissioners asking individuals to pray before participating in local government meetings, as actually happens in Jackson County. This similarity underscores why a tradition that protects the Town of Greece’s right to open its meetings with solemn and respectful prayers, which was targeted at legislators and offered by clergy or volunteers from a variety of faith traditions, does not protect Jackson County’s policy to restrict its legislative prayer practice to government officials themselves asking the public to participate in exclusively Christian prayer.Judge White wrote a separate dissenting opinion. Courthouse News Service reports on the decision.



No Comments

Be the first to start a conversation

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

five × five =