Saturday, July 20, 2013

6th Circuit: County's Invocation Policy Facially Valid; But Continues For Decision On "As Applied" Challenge

In Jones v. Hamilton County Government, Tennessee, (6th Cir., July 19, 2013), the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a facial constitutional challenge to the invocation policy of the Hamilton County (TN) Commission.  Shortly after a lawsuit was filed challenging the opening of meetings with prayers that were often Christian, the Commission adopted a new invocation policy inviting religious leaders throughout the county to offer invocations. Focusing on the facial challenge to that policy, the court said:
On its face, the Policy complies with Marsh and does not advance one faith or belief over another. Thus, the district court properly denied to issue a preliminary injunction on this basis.
Turning to an "as applied" challenge to the policy, the court also upheld the district court's denial of a preliminary injunction, noting that only two Commission meetings occurred under the revised Policy prior to the district court's hearing on the matter.  The court said:
Based on two instances in a relatively short period of time, the Court cannot say whether the Commission’s application of its Policy proselytizes or advances Christianity or disparages other beliefs. ... 
However it concluded that the case should proceed in the district court since now almost a year had passed and there would be a sufficient record to decide whether the policy as applied is constitutional. AP reports on the decision.

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