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Federal appeals court rules prayer at Michigan county's public meeting constitutional

[JURIST] A federal appeals court ruled [opinion, PDF] Wednesday that elected public board commissioners in a county in Michigan did not violate the US Constitution by opening their sessions with Christian prayer and asking attendees to join in. In a 9-6 decision, the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] acknowledged that legislative prayer is part of traditions of the country and stated that plaintiff has not met his burden of proof to succeed in a First Amendment [text] claim. Judge Griffin, writing the majority opinion for the court, largely rejected plaintiff Bormuth's arguments and stated that "Bormuth has show he was offended by the Christian nature of the Board's prayers. But '[o]ffense...does not equate to coercion.'" Dissenting Judge Karen Moore wrote that the court overextends constitutional protection to excluding "non-Christians from the prayer opportunity and expresses disgust at people who voice a different opinion." The opinion comes in conflict with a recent decision made in July by an appeals court in Virginia which ruled a similar fact-pattern unconstitutional.

This case had originally been appealed [JURIST report] to the Sixth Circuit court for ruling on a summary judgment then remanded down for further proceedings. The Sixth Circuit court reclaimed the case to hear en banc [LII backgrounder]. The US Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that the practice of opening town meetings with a prayer does not violate [JURIST report] the First Amendment.

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