(Washington, DC, August 5, 2022) – On July 22, 2021, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled that the American Humanist Association (AHA), in its case against the City of Ocala regarding a prayer vigil led by city officials in September 2014, should be remanded back to the District Court to be reconsidered under the new standards set by Kennedy v. Bremerton.
The US Court has ruled that this case be remanded to the district court to “give it an opportunity to apply in the first instance the historical practices and understandings standard endorsed in Kennedy.”
While the Opinion states, “…the Supreme Court has definitively decided that Lemon is dead — long live historical practices and understandings,” the District Court did not tether its ruling to Lemon. If government action presents an obvious violation under direct precedent, history, or bedrock Establishment Clause requirements, courts may discard the disjunctive Lemon test for a more direct route.
Additionally, the AHA successfully defeated the American Center for Law & Justice and Trump lawyer’s argument that atheists lack standing to challenge government events that involve prayer.
“We see this as a major victory considering the hostile judicial climate we are currently faced with,” says AHA Legal Director and Senior Counsel, Monica Miller. “The lower court is asked to ensure our victory still holds up under the recent Supreme Court cases and it unequivocally does.”
The AHA originally filed the case on behalf of four Marion County residents in November 2014, regarding an hour-long Christian prayer vigil, organized and sponsored by the City of Ocala, its mayor, and its police department. Rojas et al v. City of Ocala, Florida et al (Case No. 18-12679) challenged the constitutionality of the vigil, which included prayer, religious songs, Christian sermons, and call-and-response style preaching. The event was held on a high Jewish holiday, offending many local Jewish citizens who could not attend.
The AHA won its lawsuit in the US District Court of Florida in May 2018. The District Court previously found that Ocala’s actions in leading and promoting a prayer vigil violated the Establishment Clause under any standard.
“The City of Ocala and its police department, as civil servants of the state, should never have exerted their influence upon the citizens they were meant to serve by promoting a singular religion and its practices,” comments AHA Executive Director, Nadya Dutchin. “We’re proud to have stood with the concerned citizens of Ocala, trying to preserve their constitutional right to freedom from religion.”
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 worldview of humanism, which—without beliefs in 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.