Case Against Lack of Prayer Dismissed

I don’t think I ever heard of this case before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. The plaintiff filed suit against the government for “the removal of prayer” from schools and other public places as a violation of her religious freedom. The district court dismissed the case and the appeals court has now upheld that dismissal.

Doretta Holyfield-Vega appeals pro se the dismissal with prejudice of her complaint for injunctive relief against officials of the United States and the State of Alabama. The district court ruled that Holyfield-Vega lacked standing to sue the officials. We affirm.

The district court correctly concluded that Holyfield-Vega failed to allege that she had suffered an injury in fact. To have standing, a plaintiff must establish that she has incurred an injury to a protected interest that is “concrete and particularized.” Holyfield-Vega alleged that “[t]he removal of pray[er]” from “school and other areas” by federal and state officials violated her right to the free exercise of religion under the First Amendment, but Holyfield-Vega failed to describe how she had been injured by the officials’ conduct. Holyfield-Vega argued that she was entitled to proceed “[a]s a concern[ed] United States Citizen,” but a plaintiff “does not state an Article III case or controversy”

“claiming only harm to [her] and every citizen’s interest in proper application of the Constitution . . . and seeking relief that no more directly and tangibly benefits [her] than it does the public at large.” The district court correctly dismissed Holyfield-Vega’s complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

Right result, wrong reasoning. This is the same problem I always have with the court’s standing doctrine. Hell yes “every citizen’s interest in proper application of the Constitution” should be enough to grant standing. There are too many areas of the law, especially in Establishment Clause jurisprudence, where this entirely artificial doctrine has made the constitution virtually unenforceable because no one has standing to challenge it. The court should have granted standing and granted summary judgment to the defendants.

But here’s a bit of irony: One of the named defendants in the case was Judge Roy Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court.

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  • daved

    The language of the dismissal suggests she could have had standing had she been able to show how she was harmed by the situation.

  • Michael Heath

    So if:

    a) the plaintiff had demonstrated that God answered her prayers in a way that demonstrably benefitted her outside the jurisdiction of the school and,

    b) the plaintiff was able to empirically validate that God wasn’t answering her prayers or benefitting her within the jurisdiction of the school because of school policy on religion then,

    the plaintiff would have had standing.

    Hey, I’m fine with that!

  • doublereed

    How would you even go about changing the standing doctrine?

  • d.c.wilson

    Any links to her brief? I’m sure it would make some entertaining reading.

  • daved

    How would you even go about changing the standing doctrine?

    You can’t. You don’t have standing to try to change it.

  • theschwa

    A daved (#5), I agree. I believe it is SCOTUS’s Doctrine-22.

  • Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    The real answer, of course, is to write a huge number of law review articles about how standing doctrine’s unnecessarily narrow current configuration harms numerous constitutional interests more than it protects the separation of powers intended to be insulated from court-creep by the “case or controversy” clause.

    When enough persuasive articles have been written, the legal community’s default position will change and the courts will begin to feel like they can legitimately revise the doctrine without harm to either SoP or to the courts’ reputations.

    Then they will.

    So if you and your closest 1k friends apply to law school and each write an article on this, we’ll be well on our way.

  • Avo, also nigelTheBold

    The correct response would have been, “What the fuck are you talking about*? You are allowed to pray in school.”


    * That’s legal jargon.

  • alanuk

    I am not a lawyer. I am not an American citizen. I have never been to America and have no wish to ever go there. I certainly never wish to get involved in your legal system. Thus my completely unbiased and disinterested view is this.

    The Court will reject the case on the narrowest possible grounds. In this case the Court does not have to do any reasoning. The plaintiff brought a case that was not a case.

    In other countries the Court might have told her not to waste the Court’s time or even impose some penalty. But in the good old US of A, she is entitled to her day in court.

    The judgement is rather telling. Not only does it say that she brought the appeal pro se but underlines it. No doubt the Court thinks the woman is a raving idiot but is not going to give her any ammunition to take the case further. The least said the better. So it’s, “We AFFIRM the dismissal of Holyfield-Vega’s complaint.”

    Of course what they are affirming is the decision of the District Court to dismiss the case with prejudice.

    I think that you are asking something of your legal that it is not prepared to do.

  • cjcolucci

    It’s not clear just who the plaintiff is, but I can think of any number of possible plaintiffs who would have standing that a mere outraged citizen would lack. A student who wanted to pray (more accurately, have a public prayer ceremony in class — as I always say, there will be prayer in schools as long as there isalgebra) but was prevented from doing so would, in my view, have standing.

  • eric

    Agree with @1: the court appears to be dismissing her case out of lack of standing for two reasons. The one Ed is complaining is bogus, AND because she couldn’t show any actual damages. The latter seems perfectly reasonable to me. Before you proceed to have such a court case, the plaintiff should be able to articulate what happened to them that requires a legal remedy. That’s a pretty low bar; I’m okay with it.

    A student who wanted to pray (more accurately, have a public prayer ceremony in class — as I always say, there will be prayer in schools as long as there isalgebra) but was prevented from doing so would, in my view, have standing.

    What harm have they suffered from not being able to have a public prayer ceremony on school time? Did the public prayer ceremony they had on Sunday not stick?

    I think people following a religion with an historical practice of multi-daily prayers might have a case. So if you’re Islamic and you want to get out your prayer mat, and you’re not allowed. But with Christianity, the harm of missing that daily 9am group prayer seems more a sham invention rather than a recognized religious requirement.

  • pacal

    So this person is seriously arguing that the refusal of the state to have enforced, mandatory school pray violates her right to Religious liberty!? What this means is requiring people to pray is not a violation of the separation of church and state and that state sanctioned pray is in fact necessary in order to have religious liberty. No doubt black is white and day is night also. (snark)

  • Michael Heath

    cjcolucci writes:

    . . . I can think of any number of possible plaintiffs who would have standing that a mere outraged citizen would lack. A student who wanted to pray (more accurately, have a public prayer ceremony in class — as I always say, there will be prayer in schools as long as there is algebra) but was prevented from doing so would, in my view, have standing.

    Students already have the right to prayer in class as long as it doesn’t disrupt others, i.e. infringe up the rights of others.

    Are you instead referring to the student’s inability to leverage the power of the government by disrupting class where the student/plaintiff leads a prayer where the teacher and students are expected to either sit patiently during that prayer or leave the room while the student’s prayer is conducted? What possible harm could the plaintiff/student introduce to the court as a finding of fact if the government didn’t allow her to lead such a prayer? Especially given the fact she already has the right to pray in class as long as it doesn’t disrupt others.

  • cjcolucci

    I don’t think we disagree. The student’s case isn’t any good, largely for the reasons you mention, and would be thrown out on the merits, but she has been deprived of something that she, wrongly, thinks she’s entitled to have, and would have if the school’s policies were different. That makes her case different from a case brought by, say, a middle-aged man with no school-age children who just thinks –Goddammit! — that there ought to be public prayer in schools and that the Supreme Court got it wrong. He can’t possibly be affected by a decision either way, the student can. They both still lose, but for different reasons.

  • gerryl

    On the topic of ridiculous lawsuits. This from The Oregonian:

    A 26-year-old Portland pimp has filed a $100 million lawsuit against Nike, claiming the shoe manufacturer is partially responsible for a brutal beating that helped net him a 100-year prison sentence.

    Sirgiorgiro Clardy claims Nike should have placed a label in his Jordan shoes warning consumers that they could be used as a dangerous weapon. He was wearing a pair when he repeatedly stomped the face of a john who was trying to leave a Portland hotel without paying Clardy’s prostitute in June 2012.

  • scienceavenger

    I just hope a similar case is brought by someone claiming legalizing gay marriage destroyed their right to a heterosexual marriage. Should make for an interesting ruling.