U.S. Supreme Court rebuffs Florida city's challenge to atheist lawsuit

By - Reuters

By John Kruzel

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a Florida city's bid to fend off a lawsuit by atheists accusing officials of violating constitutional limits on government involvement in religion by staging a prayer vigil following gun violence that wounded three children.

The justices turned away an appeal by the city of Ocala of a lower court's ruling endorsing the right of the plaintiffs, backed by the American Humanist Association, to sue over legal harms they said they sustained attending the 2014 vigil in which uniformed police chaplains preached a Judeo-Christian message. The U.S. Constitution's First Amendment "establishment clause" restricts governmental involvement in religion.

Conservative Justice Clarence Thomas dissented from the decision to deny the case.

Ocala city officials helped organize and conduct the prayer vigil held in response to a series of shootings in which three children were struck by stray bullets. The Ocala Police Department on its Facebook page posted a letter co-signed by the police chief and an activist affiliated with a local Baptist church that promoted the vigil and urged "fervent prayer" to help reduce crime in the community.

(Reporting by John Kruzel; Editing by Will Dunham)

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