The Jackson County Board of Commissioners opens its public meetings with an invocation delivered by one of its nine commissioners. The commissioners all deliver overtly Christian prayers, often in the name of Jesus Christ, and do not allow members of other faiths to lead the prayer. Citizens who attend the meetings have little choice but to participate, even if doing so violates their conscience.
When Peter Bormuth rose during the public-comment period at a board meeting and asked the commission to alter its prayer practice, at least one commissioner turned his back on him. After Bormuth filed suit, arguing that this prayer practice violated the Establishment Clause, one of the commissioners publicly referred to him as a “nitwit.” Another warned against allowing invited guests to give invocations for fear that they would express non-Christian religious beliefs.
The trial court dismissed his lawsuit, a split panel of the Sixth Circuit reversed, and the full Sixth Circuit agreed to re-hear the case “en banc.” In March 2017, the ACLU joined a friend-of-the-court brief filed in the Sixth Circuit, arguing that the Jackson County Commission’s practice of opening all its meetings with exclusively Christian prayers violates the Establishment Clause.
Unfortunately, in September 2017 the full Sixth Circuit ruled against Bormuth and upheld the commission’s legislative prayer practice. In June 2018 the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case.
(Bormuth v. Jackson County; ACLU of Michigan Attorneys Dan Korobkin and Michael J. Steinberg; National ACLU Attorneys Dan Mach and Heather Weaver; Richard Katskee and Bradley Girard of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.)