Courtroom interior_newWritten by Don Byrd

Last month, I posted about a 6th Circuit Appeals Court panel ruling invalidating the invocation policy of Michigan’s Jackson County Board of Commissioners as an unconstitutional violation of the separation of church and state doctrine. Now, the entire 6th Circuit, apparently on its own, has voted to re-hear the case together (en banc). The move vacates the panel’s 2-1 decision, allowing the practice to continue, pending the outcome.

The Jackson County practice was notable – and, the panel concluded, different from the invocation policy the Supreme Court has found acceptable – in that the commissioners themselves delivered the prayer (rather than inviting area clergy), the audience was asked to respond with reverence during the prayer, and the court found sufficient evidence to warrant a finding that the plaintiff’s complaint about the prayer negatively impacted his requests before the Board as a citizen.

The 6th Circuit’s decision to hear the case again adds another level of intrigue to the state of the law when it comes to government-led prayer to open meetings.

The 4th Circuit also has decided to re-hear en banc a panel ruling that found acceptable a similar practice of Commissioner-led prayer. The resolution of this issue by each circuit – if they reach opposite conclusions – could set the stage for another Supreme Court hearing to further clarify the current state of the law when it comes to government-led prayer.

For more, see the Baptist Joint Committee’s resource page on the Supreme Court’s ruling in Greece v. Galloway.