His time to shine is coming up real quick.
Two cases pertaining to religious liberty are poised to eventually make their way to the desk of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, and the ruling he winds up making could engender either a disastrous or wondrous effect on the American people’s right to worship freely.
The first case, Bormuth v. County of Jackson, concerns Peter Bormuth, a self-described “pagan” who objects to the Christian prayers recited at the beginning of the Jackson County, Michigan, board of commissioners’ monthly meetings.
“Mr. Bormuth felt uncomfortable when, in the summer of 2013, he attended two board meetings to discuss environmental issues,” reported The Economist. “The July meeting began with a call from the board chair to ‘rise’ and ‘assume a reverent position’. The chair then offered a prayer.”
While this might sound harmless to everyone else, it caused Bormuth to flip his lid and eventually — after attending a few more board meetings — to file a legal challenge based on the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, the First Amendment provision that “prohibits government actions that unduly favor one religion over another,” according to Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute.
The second case, Lund v. Rowan County, sounds eerily similar, though it applies to commissioners in Rowan County, North Carolina. As noted by the Salisbury Post, it specifically concerns whether “whether county commissioners can offer sectarian prayers at the start of meetings.”
This particular case has been weaving its way through the United States’ complex judicial branch, with North Carolina’s Middle District court reportedly ruling the board’s prayer practices unconstitutional in 2015, but a three-judge-panel of the 4th Circuit reversing that ruling in 2016.
“Now, Rowan County’s suit has joined a minuscule portion of cases to be reviewed by all 15 judges for the 4th Circuit, known as an en banc review,” noted the Post. “The court’s decision about Rowan County’s case will require at least eight of the 15 to agree with one another about the constitutionality of past prayer practices.”
Bormuth v. County of Jackson has fared similarly. According to The Daily Signal, first a “district judge upheld the county’s practice of allowing” for prayer, then “(a) three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit reversed the lower court’s ruling” and on June 14 attorneys for the defendants “will present arguments as all 15 judges of the Cincinnati-based appeals court rehear that case en banc.”
All the legalese aside, the point is that these cases are apt to eventually wind up in the Supreme Court — especially if the two circuit courts reach conflicting conclusions. Then, the newly confirmed Justice Gorsuch’s final decision could either cement the American people’s right to religious liberty in stone, or cause it to melt away like wax.
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