For Immediate Release
Merrill Miller, 202-238-9088 ext. 105, firstname.lastname@example.org
David Niose, 202-238-9088 ext. 119, email@example.com
(Ocala, FL, July 6, 2015)—A federal magistrate found that a lawsuit objecting to a prayer vigil that was sponsored and promoted by the City of Ocala, Florida, and its police department last year may proceed. The magistrate’s findings, issued on Friday, deny a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
“We’re pleased that the case may go forward, and we will continue seeking relief for the local citizens whose rights were violated by this unconstitutional religious activity,” said David Niose, legal director of the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center, which filed the case on behalf of the three local plaintiffs.
The prayer vigil, hosted in spite of warnings that such activity violated the separation of church and state, consisted of Christian preaching, proselytizing, and prayers, much of which was led by uniformed police personnel. The magistrate stated in its findings that because prayer is a fundamentally religious practice, the government cannot promote it without the implication that doing so violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
“Police departments are in the business of protecting, not preaching,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “By praying and proselytizing, the city government discriminates against those of minority faiths and of no faith.”
While the central allegations challenging the constitutionality of the city’s involvement in the vigil were permitted to go forward, the magistrate’s findings also concluded that the American Humanist Association itself lacks standing to sue and that claims against city officials in their official capacity could not be pursued.
A copy of the lawsuit can be found here, and a copy of the magistrate’s findings is available 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 nontheistic 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.