Opinions Relating to Orders - 2022

City of Ocala v. Rojas

The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied. Statement of JUSTICE GORSUCH respecting the denial of certiorari.

Faced with tragedy, the city of Ocala, Florida, searched for ways to bring the community together. After a shooting spree left several children injured, police appealed to community leaders for help. A local NAACP official suggested to the chief of police that he contact religious leaders to facilitate conversations between residents and law enforcement. A local minister, in turn, proposed holding a prayer vigil for the victims. The chief agreed to organize the event and police chaplains participated in it. But instead of unity, litigation followed. Several atheists who chose to attend the event sued the city, alleging that the event’s religious themes violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

Eventually, the District Court granted summary judgment in their favor. 315 F. Supp. 3d 1256, 1290 (MD Fla. 2018). The court reasoned that individuals enjoy Article III standing to contest religious speech they find offensive and that the vigil violated the Establishment Clause under the terms of Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U. S. 602 (1971). 315 F. Supp. 3d, at 1274– 1290. On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit agreed that at least one of the plaintiffs had standing to sue, noting that she had “‘direct contact’” with prayer she found “offensive.”