For Immediate Release
Merrill Miller, 202-238-9088 ext. 105, firstname.lastname@example.org
David Niose, 202-238-9088 ext. 119, email@example.com
Monica Miller, 202-238-9088 ext. 120, firstname.lastname@example.org
(Ocala, FL, Nov. 25, 2014)—Today the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center filed a lawsuit on behalf of a group of local citizens against the City of Ocala, Florida, and the Ocala Police Department for violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
The lawsuit challenges the city and the police department’s practice of promoting Christianity at a community prayer vigil, held on September 24 and attended by representatives from the Ocala Police Department, who wore their official badges. Some of these police department representatives preached Christianity in a revivalist, evangelical style that encouraged a call-and-response from the audience. Speakers from the police department also prayed, sang religious songs and delivered Christian sermons. The event came after objections from individuals in the community, who learned about the prayer vigil when the police department created a public Facebook post containing a letter encouraging members of the community to support the prayer vigil. The letter was written on official department letterhead and signed by the police chief and a representative of Ocala’s New Zion Missionary Baptist Church.
“Using the machinery of the state to advance a religious agenda is an abuse of police power and a clear violation of the Establishment Clause,” said Monica Miller, an attorney with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.
“Police departments should protect the public, not promote religion or proselytize Christianity,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “Seeing uniformed officers engaging in religious activity pressures other community members into participating in those same exercises and portrays those who fail to do so as outsiders and second-class citizens.”
The Appignani Humanist Legal Center previously sent an email to the Ocala Police Department, informing them that their actions were unconstitutional. The police department failed to provide an adequate response.
The lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment that the police department’s actions and policies violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. It also seeks a permanent injunction prohibiting the police department from advancing religion, using government resources, including social media, to support religious organizations, organizing community events that promote prayer and religion, and permitting uniformed police officers from participating in prayer, worship or proselytizing in an official capacity.
Further details on the lawsuit can be viewed here.
Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., the American Humanist Association (AHA) works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other non-religious Americans. The AHA advances the ethical and life-affirming philosophy of humanism, which—without beliefs in any gods or other supernatural forces—encourages individuals to live informed and meaningful lives that aspire to the greater good of humanity.
Special thanks to the Louis J. Appignani Foundation for their support of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.