For decades, the City of Lakeland has opened its Commission meetings with prayers delivered by invited clergy. And for twenty-five years, these speakers were selected from a list containing clergy from exclusively Christian denominations; the invited Christian clergy typically delivered Christian prayers. After the plaintiffs complained in March 2010, the City expanded its list of invited clergy to include other denominations.
Plaintiffs filed suit against the City in July 2010, arguing that the City's practices violated several constitutional provisions, including the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. In February 2012, the trial court dismissed the case, concluding that even a pattern of Christian-only speakers delivering Christian-only prayers was lawful so long as the City did not intentionally exclude non-Christians from speaking. The plaintiffs appealed.
On May 18, 2012, we filed an amicus brief, supporting the plaintiffs, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Our brief focused on the City's practices before it expanded the clergy list in March 2010. These original practices violated the Establishment Clause, we argued, because they resulted in exclusively Christian speakers delivering Christian prayers. Even without intentional discrimination, we observed, the Constitution prohibits governments from engaging in practices that have the effect of promoting a particular religion; whatever the City's motives, their original practices resulted in support for Christianity and Christianity alone.
The Eleventh Circuit has scheduled oral argument for December.