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Victory: Legislative Prayer Is Constitutional

By ACLJ.org1511293576533

This is the latest installment in a year-end series looking back at a few of the numerous victories by the ACLJ in 2017.

When a county Board of Commissioners’ legislative prayer practice was challenged as unconstitutional, the ACLJ filed a key brief leading to a U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decision determining that Commissioner-led prayer does not violate the Constitution.

In this case, the Jackson County, Michigan, Board of Commissioners allowed each Commissioner, on a rotating basis, to give a brief invocation during the opening ceremonial portion of Board meetings. Even though each Commissioner is allowed to offer an invocation as dictated by his or her conscience, a Jackson resident found the prayers “offensive,” and filed a federal lawsuit.

The resident lost in trial court, but won on appeal before a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The case was then reheard by the Sixth Circuit Court en banc – a hearing by all active judges rather than the usual three. In response, the ACLJ filed a crucial amicus curiae (friend-of-the-court) brief supporting Jackson County and argued that its legislative prayer practice is constitutional. In a majority ruling, the Sixth Circuit agreed.

The majority’s ruling was consistent with the arguments set forth in our amicus brief. We argued that Supreme Court precedent permits the offering of sectarian prayers before legislative sessions, as is sometimes the case during the Jackson County Board meetings. We also argued that there is nothing coercive about the prayer, and that requests to participate may easily be declined without penalty.

Although this was a major victory for religious liberty in America, the Sixth Circuit’s decision will not end the battle waged by those opposed to legislative prayer. Another case from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, striking down similar commissioner-led prayers in North Carolina, has just been appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. We have just filed a critical amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to take that case and uphold legislative prayer.

With your support, the ACLJ will continue its critical defense of legislative prayer just as we have defended other forms of public prayer.

To help the ACLJ continue to have the resources we need to make these victories possible and continue these fights, please consider making a Tax-Deductible donation to the ACLJ through our year-end Matching Challenge. Your gift will be DOUBLED dollar-for-dollar through the end of the year.

You can read more in the ACLJ’s 2017 Victories series here.

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