Federal appeals court to consider Michigan county's prayers

By The Associated Press | Posted - Feb. 27, 2017 at 3:06 p.m.

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DETROIT (AP) — A full federal appeals court will consider whether a Michigan county's tradition of Christian-only prayers at public meetings violates the U.S. Constitution.

A 2-1 ruling earlier this month by a three-judge panel that said prayers by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners were unconstitutional has been vacated, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Monday in an order.

The case has been restored to the appeals court docket as a "pending appeal."

Peter Bormuth, of Jackson County, was offended after he began attending county commissioner meetings in 2013 to discuss environmental issues. Bormuth, a pagan, said he felt compelled to stand and participate in religion in order to speak to public officials.

Some panned his lawsuit as an attack on Jesus Christ, and one commissioner called the 61-year-old Bormuth a "nitwit."

The appeals court panel ruled the prayers promoted one faith over others and overturned a lower court ruling in favor of the board. It said prayer invocations at public meetings can be legal. But in Jackson County, the court noted that only commissioners offered a prayer, not audience members, and the prayer was always Christian, not from other faiths.

At the time, Bormuth said he was pleased by the court panel's ruling.

Commissioners held a moment of silence at their first meeting following the earlier ruling, but intend to continue invocations, chair James "Steve" Shotwell Jr. told The Associated Press on Monday.

"The Jackson County Board of Commissioners will continue to follow the law and intends to bide by its decisions," Shotwell said. "It's not just a question of Christian speaking. It's all people — a certain group of people who are elected and telling them they cannot hold an invocation."

Bormuth didn't immediately return phone or social media messages seeking comment Monday.

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