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Art Rojas v. City of Ocala

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Ocala Division

May 24, 2018

ART ROJAS, et al., Plaintiffs,
CITY OF OCALA, et al., Defendants.



         If individuals or religious groups organize a prayer vigil and gather in the Downtown Square in the City of Ocala to pray for an end to violent crime, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution will protect the “free exercise” of their religion. But what if the government organizes and sponsors the prayer vigil? That is a problem because under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, the government cannot conduct such religious activity. Yet that is what happened here. While the Ocala Police Chief and his subordinates were no doubt well-intentioned and sincere in sponsoring the Prayer Vigil, their actions violated the First Amendment.

         I. Introduction

         When the City of Ocala experienced a violent crime-spree in the late summer and early fall of 2014, its police department sought to curtail the violence using all available means. As part of those efforts, Chief of Police Kenneth Gregory “Greg” Graham met with members of Ocala's faith-based community to seek their assistance. What resulted was an invitation from Chief Graham to the community, promoted on the Ocala Police Department facebook page and elsewhere, encouraging everyone's attendance at a “Community Prayer Vigil” on September 24, 2014 in the Downtown Square. The plaintiffs, who are atheists, contacted Chief Graham and Ocala's mayor, Reuben “Kent” Guinn, in advance of the Vigil, advising them of their concern that the City's promotion and sponsorship of a Prayer Vigil would violate the United States Constitution's Establishment Clause. The plaintiffs were rebuffed, the Vigil took place, and this lawsuit followed.

         Efforts to settle the case failed and the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment (Docs. 52, 53, 54) and responses thereto (Docs. 61, 62, 64, 68). The Court held argument on the motions on May 26, 2017, the record of which is incorporated by reference. The parties made further efforts to settle, but those too failed and the Court now issues this decision.

         II. Undisputed Facts

         In September 2014, the Ocala Police Department pursued various means to try to apprehend those responsible for the recent shooting spree that left several children injured. Graham Dec. I[1] (Doc. 52-1) at ¶¶ 5-6. The police knew who the shooters were, but could not persuade witnesses to come forward to testify. Graham Depo. (Doc. 54-10) at Tr. 21. Their efforts included meeting with local leaders of the NAACP, who suggested to Chief Graham that the police reach out to the local faith-based community for help in convincing witnesses to cooperate. Graham Dec. I (Doc. 52-1) at ¶ 7. Heeding that suggestion, Chief Graham held a meeting at the Ocala Police Department on September 17, 2014, with Captain Richard Edwards, the District Commander of the area where most of the trouble was occurring; Officer Mary Williams, who assisted Captain Edwards with community events in the area; Captain Carmen Sirolli, the Captain in charge of the division investigating the shootings; Major Dennis Yonce, the Major to whom Sirolli reported; Hugh Brockington, an Ocala Police Department Chaplain; Edwin Quintana, another Police Chaplain; and Narvella Haynes, a community activist who lived in the area where the crimes occurred and who had previously assisted the police with community outreach. Graham Depo. (Doc. 54-10) at Tr. 19-21.

         The purpose of the meeting was to develop ideas about how “to get the ministers in that area to lean on, talk to, encourage witnesses to come forward” so the police could hold the perpetrators accountable. Graham Depo. (Doc. 54-10) at Tr. 21. Chaplain Edwin Quintana suggested that a prayer vigil or similar event on Ocala's public Downtown Square might bring the faith-based community together to get the word out and encourage people to cooperate. Graham Dec. I (Doc. 52-1) at ¶ 10; Graham Depo. (Doc. 54-10) at Tr. 23. Chief Graham “thought it was a great idea” and said “Let's do it.” Graham Depo. (Doc. 54-10) at Tr. 23. Graham says he then left the meeting and Quintana and Haynes began planning the Vigil, creating a letter for Chief Graham's and Haynes' signatures that invited the community to participate in the Vigil.[2] Graham Dec. I (Doc. 52-1) at ¶ 10; Haynes Dec. (Doc. 52-2) at ¶¶ 7, 9; Quintana Dec. (Doc. 52-3) at ¶¶ 5 & 6. Chief Graham read the letter and directed an Ocala Police Department Sergeant to post it on the Ocala Police Department's facebook page, and Haynes and the Chaplains encouraged members of the community to attend the Vigil. Graham Dec. I (Doc. 52-1) at ¶ 11; Graham Depo. (Doc. 54-10) at Tr. 31, 58; Graham Inter. Resp. (Doc. 54-6) at # 1; Haynes Dec. (Doc. 52-2) at ¶ 8, Quintana Dec. (Doc. 52-3) at ¶ 7. Chief Graham agreed that by posting the letter on the Ocala Police Department facebook page, he was “promoting” the Prayer Vigil. Graham Depo. (Doc. 54-10) at Tr. 50.

         Printed on Ocala Police Department letterhead (with the image of the Ocala Police Department badge and words OCALA POLICE DEPARTMENT displayed at the top, and the Department address and phone number at the bottom), the text of the letter read:

Blessings to all our citizens, specifically Pastors, Community Leaders, Parents and our precious youth.
We are facing a crisis in the City of Ocala and Marion County that requires fervent prayer and your presence to show unity and help in this senseless crime spree that is affecting our communities.
Within the last 30 days we have had numerous shootings that have resulted in two children and an infant being hit by bullets.
Stray bullets do not have respect for addresses, social status, economic status, educational background, political status and the list goes on. Buy my point is none of us are exempt from stray bullets.
I am urging you all to please support a very important “Community Prayer Vigil” that will be held this coming Wednesday, September 24, 2014 at 6:30 pm to be held at our Downtown Square located in the heart of the City.
Please support peace and this appeal for unity on this very important “Community Prayer Vigil” coming this next Wednesday. We need you.

         The letter was signed with “Blessings and Highest Regards” by Greg Graham, as Chief of Police, and Narvella Haynes. See Doc. 1, Ex. A. Here is an image of the letter:

         (Image Omitted)

         Ocala Police Department staff created a separate flyer about the Vigil which depicts a photo of the gazebo covered stage in the Downtown Square with an image of praying hands in one corner and the Ocala Police Department logo in the opposite corner, and the words “Community Prayer Vigil Wednesday, September 24, 2014 6:30 p.m. Ocala/Marion County is in crisis! Help Stop The Violence! Join us downtown on the square.” Doc. 54-22 (marked Ex. 6) at 7. The Police Chief's letter and an earlier version of the flyer (created before the Ocala Police Department logo was added) were sent to Narvella Haynes by Officer Williams on September 19. Doc. 54-23 (marked Ex. 7).[3] Chief Graham stated he was unaware of the existence of the flyer. Graham Dec. II (Doc. 68-1) at ¶ 4.

         Quintana invited several local clergymen to participate in the Vigil and sent an email to the Ocala Police Chaplains (copying Graham) telling them that Chief Graham asked Quintana to ask all the Chaplains to be present at the Vigil and to come wearing their Police Chaplain uniforms. Quintana Dec. (Doc. 52-3) at ¶¶ 7, 8; Doc. 54-26 (marked Ex. 10) (9/22/2014 email to chaplains from Quintana, copying Graham).[4] The Ocala Police Chaplain uniform differs from the uniform of a sworn officer- the Chaplains wear white shirts instead of blue, the sleeves bear patches that say “CHAPLAIN” above the Ocala Police Department patch, and the Chaplains do not carry weapons. Quintana Dec. (Doc. 52-3) at ¶ 9; Doc. 54-19 (marked Ex. 3) at Page ID 1386, 1389, 1394, 1396, 1401, 1402 (photos of uniformed Ocala Police Officers and uniformed Ocala Police Chaplains).

         The Ocala Police Department supplies and pays for the Chaplains' uniforms. City Inter. Resp. (Doc. 54-5) at # 7. Chief Graham testified that when the Chaplains are in their police uniforms, the public would perceive them as being connected with the Ocala Police Department. Graham Depo. (Doc. 54-10) at Tr. 165-66. The Chaplains have office space in the Ocala Police Department's building. Id. at Tr. 169. According to the Ocala Police Department Directive, “Ocala Police Department Chaplains are official members of the Ocala Police Department[, ]” who are “appointed by the Chief of Police, ” and are “considered members of the staff of the Chief of Police in a support capacity and report directly to the Chief of Police.” Doc. 52-6 (marked Ex. 2) at 2. “They are issued Police Identifications in the form of an identification card with holder and badge[, ]” id., are issued cell phones, and are authorized to drive Department vehicles.[5] Ocala Police Department Police Chaplain Section Manual, 2010, and as reviewed 2015 (Doc. 54-74 (marked Ex. 58)) at 23-24, 36-37. Chief Graham has the authority to terminate the Ocala Police Chaplains. Graham Depo. (Doc. 54-10) at Tr. 168. Although the Ocala Police Chaplains are volunteers, they are covered by worker's compensation when performing official Department duties. Doc. 52-6 (marked Ex. 2) at 2. All of the Ocala Police Department Chaplains are of the Christian faith. Graham Depo. (Doc. 54-10) at Tr. 157. Chief Graham agreed that although it would be inappropriate for Ocala Police Chaplains to try to “convert” people in the course of their work for the Ocala Police Department, “participating in a prayer vigil” would be part of the official function of an Ocala Police Chaplain. Id. at Tr. 78-79.[6]

         Soon after the Vigil was advertised, several citizens, including some of the plaintiffs, contacted Chief Graham and Mayor Guinn, expressing concern that a prayer vigil organized by a police department would violate the U.S. Constitution. See, e.g., Doc. 52-9 at 3-4 (9/20/2014 6:03 p.m. email); Doc. 54-51 (marked Ex. 35) at 2 (9/22/2014 5:14 p.m. email). Initially, Chief Graham's responses tended to take ownership of the Vigil, saying, for example, “I have no intention of canceling the event, ” Doc. 54-40 (marked Ex. 24) at 4 (9/22/2014 4:05 p.m. email), and “[t]his ‘vigil' is not the only strategy that we [the Police Department] are employing to fight crime in Ocala” and explaining that the purpose of the Vigil was for the Police Department to engage the faith-based community to help make the community safer. Doc. 52-9 at 3 (9/21/2014 2:43 p.m. email). As the Chief responded to one supporter who wrote to him with the subject line “Stand tall on prayer!”:

Thanks for the encouraging words. I have been getting quite a few responses from people, mostly from out of our area, who oppose this. I have no intention on calling this gathering off nor changing my personal belief on the power of prayer. Take care and I hope to see you on Wednesday.

Doc. 54-55 (marked Ex. 39) (9/22/2014 3:55 p.m. email).

         Soon thereafter, however, Chief Graham began to distance himself and his Department from the Vigil, responding that the Vigil was a community event he could not stop and over which he had no control. For example, on September 23, 2014, he wrote to one citizen with whom he had been corresponding about the meaning of the Establishment Clause, “I think you are misunderstanding my role in this event. I am not leading the event, I am not speaking at the event, I will be in attendance at the event.” Doc. 54-49 at 5 (marked Ex. 33-B) (9/23/2014 4:07 p.m. email). He further wrote that he knew the minister who was organizing it and could put the citizen in touch in case he wanted to attend “and say a few words.” Id. To another citizen, he wrote:

I am not sure if I have been clear in any of my prior emails to you that this event tonight is a “Community Prayer Vigil” not an Ocala Police Department or City of Ocala Prayer Vigil and as such I have no say in whether it gets canceled or not. I have indicated to several others that I have no intent on canceling the event and should have expanded my thoughts. If I were to try and cancel this event I would be violating the Constitution by preventing people from gathering and exercising their right to free speech.

Doc. 54-40 at 6 (marked Ex. 24-C) (9/24/2014 2:48 p.m. email from Graham). See also Doc. 54-50 (marked Ex. 34) (9/24/2014 1:27 p.m. email from Graham) (“I am not attacking your rights as an American to freedom of religion, I am upholding others['] rights to express themselves . . . this is not a City of Ocala or Ocala Police Department Prayer Vigil, it is a Community Prayer Vigil and as such I have no say in canceling the event”).

         Although there is no evidence that Kent Guinn, Ocala's Mayor, had anything to do with the planning of the Prayer Vigil, once he learned about it, [7] he readily embraced it as a government-sponsored event, responding to a citizen's complaint about what the citizen perceived to be the Police Chief's endorsement of religion: “I think this is great. I'll be sure to praise him [Chief Graham] for it.” (Doc. 54-49 (marked Ex. 33) at 3 (9/19/2014 10:55 p.m. email from Guinn to citizen, copying Graham)). Mayor Guinn wrote to Chief Graham about the Prayer Vigil two days later, stating: “As I told you I think this is a great idea and have been responding to the atheist groups that are writing me about it. I put it on my calendar to be there, ” but telling Graham that next time he does “things like that” to let the Mayor know so he doesn't find out from his “church and random emails.” Doc. 54-25 (marked Ex. 9) at 2 (9/21/2014 12:33 p.m. email from Guinn to Graham). The next day, Mayor Guinn wrote to a protesting citizen who had urged the Mayor to show leadership in addressing the Chief's violation of the First Amendment, saying,

I'm proud to stand by my Chief and support him. Times like this do test leadership and that's why we're leading the community in this prayer vigil. Yes, we have heard from folks like you who don't understand the constitution. We are doing absolutely nothing wrong.

Doc. 54-51 (marked Ex. 35) (9/22/2014 6:43 p.m. email from Guinn to citizen, copying Graham). In responding to another citizen's concern about the upcoming Prayer Vigil, Mayor Guinn responded:

Thanks for your interest in our community. There is nothing in the constitution to prohibit us from having this vigil. Not only are we not canceling it we are trying to promote it and have as many people as possible to [sic] join us. We open every council meeting with a prayer. And we end the prayer in Jesus name we pray. Our city seal says “God be with us” and we pray that he is and us with him.

Doc. 54-44 at 2 (marked Ex. 28-A) (9/22/2014 10:24 a.m. email from Guinn to citizen, copying Graham and a pastor and employee of Guinn's church (see Guinn Inter. Resp. (Doc. 54-7) at # 19)).[8]

         The upcoming Prayer Vigil became a matter of public debate in Ocala, with the citizenry vocalizing opinions both for and against it on social media, in communications to Chief Graham and Mayor Guinn, and in local news outlets. For example, one person wrote on the Ocala Police Department's facebook page: “why are the police asking us to pray? will they arrest us if we don't pray?” Doc. 54-18 (marked Ex. 2) at CM/ECF Page 4. Plaintiffs contacted counsel for The American Humanist Association (now representing plaintiffs here) who urged Chief Graham to remove the Prayer Vigil letter from the Ocala Police Department facebook page on the grounds that it was an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion. Doc. 54-46 at 2 (marked Ex. 30-A) (9/21/2014 10:47 a.m. email from David Niose to Graham). Chief Graham responded that his efforts were upholding the rights of others to assemble and that taxpayer funds were used only to the minimal extent that Graham wrote the letter and printed it on Department letterhead. Doc. 54-46 at 3 (marked Ex. 30-B) (9/21/2014 10:57 a.m. email from Graham to Niose).

         Chief Graham testified he would have removed the facebook posting if the Mayor had directed him to do so. Graham Depo. (Doc. 54-10) at Tr. 161. Likewise, Mayor Guinn testified that he had the authority to order Graham to remove the facebook posting. Guinn Depo. (Doc. 54-1) at Tr. 54-55. Guinn also said he had the authority to instruct that Ocala Police Department Chaplains not lead prayers at the Prayer Vigil or attend in Ocala Police Department Chaplain uniforms, but he did not consider doing any of that because he believed those actions were permitted under the Establishment Clause. Id. Under the charter for the City of Ocala, the Mayor is the sole municipal official in authority over the Ocala Police Department and he recommends a chief of police nominee to the City Council, who appoints the Chief. Guinn Aff. (Doc. 53-1) at ¶ 3.

         The day before the Prayer Vigil, the weather forecast apparently called for possible rain. Captain Edwards sent an email to Chief Graham, Ocala Police Chaplain Quintana and Ms. Haynes, copying an Ocala Police Department officer, asking whether they should secure an indoor location as an alternative. Doc. 54-28 (marked Ex. 12) at 2. Quintana's suggestion was that the Vigil should take place on the Square with or without rain, “[n]othing should stop, hinder or prevent from [sic] fervent prayer, ” proposing they “[k]eep it to 15-20 minutes of PRAYER only.” Id. at 3 (capitalization in original). Captain Edwards sent an email to an Ocala Police Department Major on September 23, saying he would be “mentioning” the Prayer Vigil at an upcoming staff meeting, Doc. 54-29 (marked Ex. 13), and the following day he emailed an Ocala Police Department Captain to say he might not make it to a meeting because he was “working on getting this prayer vigil set up.” Doc. 54-30 (marked Ex. 14).

         The Prayer Vigil took place on September 24, 2014 in the Downtown Square in Ocala, a public space where meetings, rallies, assemblies and other public and privately-sponsored events occur. Graham Dec. I (Doc. 52-1) at ¶ 22; see supra note 2. Chief Graham and Mayor Guinn both attended the Prayer Vigil, but neither of them addressed the crowd. Graham Inter. Resp. (Doc. 54-6) at # 1; Guinn Inter. Resp. (Doc. 54-7) at # 15. Approximately ten people were on the stage during the Prayer Vigil, including four uniformed Ocala Police Chaplains, one off-duty Ocala Police Department employee who was not in uniform, and five faith and/or community leaders. Graham Inter. Resp. (Doc. 54-6) at # 3. Not all of those persons spoke from the stage, but a number who did speak were Ocala Police Department Chaplains. Doc. 54-16; Doc. 54-19 (marked Ex. 3) at Page ID 1386, 1389, 1390. Chief Graham said he did not know in advance what any of the speakers planned to say, but his recollection is that those who did speak either prayed or sang. Graham Dec. I (Doc. 52-1) at ¶ 16; Graham Dec. II (Doc. 68-1) at ¶ 5; Graham Depo. (Doc. 54-10) at Tr. 139-40. He did not hear any non-Christians speak at the Prayer Vigil and the crowd appeared to be predominately Christian. Graham Depo. (Doc. 54-10) at Tr. 96-99, 144-45. Mayor Guinn knew most of the Ocala Police Department Chaplains by name, but said he had no recollection as to who spoke. Guinn Depo. (Doc. 54-11) at Tr. 27-28.

         Mayor Guinn estimated that 500-600 people attended the Prayer Vigil. Id. at Tr. 108. Chief Graham, who said the Vigil lasted for about an hour, also said “[t]here were a lot of people there, ” “definitely more than 100.” Graham Depo. (Doc. 54-10) at Tr. 139, 149.[9] Chief Graham spent his time “engaging people in the crowd, talking to them” and “attempt[ing] to enlist their help with the crime spree.” Id. at Tr. 140; Graham Dec. I (Doc. 52-1) at ¶ 21. In addition to Chief Graham, other uniformed police officers attended the Prayer Vigil to engage with the crowd and provide security, consistent with the Department's regular practice of having officers present at public downtown gatherings. Graham Dec. I (Doc. 52-1) at ¶ 26. The record includes photographs taken at the Prayer Vigil, as well as transcripts from video and audio recordings taken by one of the plaintiffs. See Doc. 54-19 (marked Ex. 3); Doc. 54-16. Plaintiffs note that in at least one photograph, a uniformed officer appears to be participating in prayer while sitting on the edge of the stage. See Doc. 54-19 at Page ID 1392. While the recorded statements in evidence were not the only speeches given at the Prayer Vigil, there is no dispute that these speeches were religious.[10]

         Plaintiffs Lucinda and Daniel Hale, who live in Marion County, had visited the Downtown Square on a number of previous occasions, such as to visit the farmer's market. L. Hale Depo. (Doc. 54-15) at Tr. 31. The Hales heard about the upcoming Prayer Vigil when someone told them about the Ocala Police Department facebook posting, which they then viewed. D. Hale Depo. (Doc. 54-14) at Tr. 7; L. Hale Depo. (Doc. 54-15 at Tr. 9). The facebook posting discussed the crisis of crime affecting citizens of Ocala and Marion County, and Ms. Hale agreed that crime creates a negative environment for all citizens, but she felt that the message inviting everyone to a Prayer Vigil did not include her or others who do not pray. L. Hale Depo. (Doc. 54-15) at Tr. 17-19. Mr. Hale engaged in email correspondence with the Mayor in advance of the Vigil, expressing regret for the recent crime spree and applauding the Chief for his attempts to curb crime, but explaining that the Vigil invitation violated the Establishment Clause and suggesting that the City promote a different rally encouraging people to come forward with ideas about how to stop crime. D. Hale Dep. (Doc. 54-14) at Tr. 17-18; 53.

         The Hales attended the Prayer Vigil and described it as similar to a Christian tent revival. D. Hale Depo. (Doc. 54-14) at Tr. 29, 47-48; L. Hale Depo. (Doc. 54-15) at Tr. 22-23. Ms. Hale stated she is concerned about alleviating crime, which was the purported purpose of the Prayer Vigil, but she felt unable to participate in any part of what actually transpired. L. Hale Inter. Resp. (Doc. 54-3) at # 8. Mr. Hale did not observe any speaker encourage people to come forward with ideas about how to stop crime. D. Hale Depo. (Doc. 54-14) at Tr. 53. Mr. Hale recalled that at least one speaker was introduced from the stage as an Ocala Police Department Chaplain. Id. at Tr. 43-44. He said he observed uniformed police officers participating in the Prayer Vigil by being part of a circle of people praying, bowing heads, and holding hands. Id. at 29-30. Mr. Hale spoke with Chief Graham at the Vigil, and they discussed the possibility of Hale doing some volunteer work with the Ocala Police Department in the future. Id. at Tr. 35, 54. Mr. Hale feels that it is everyone's responsibility to better the community. Id. at Tr. 54.

         Plaintiff Art Rojas, who lives and works in Ocala, attended the Prayer Vigil, which he described as being “essentially a Christian revival” that was “not a comfortable place for non-believers” and caused anyone present to feel “some pressure to participate and show approval, ” lest they be seen as “publicly opposing the police.” Rojas Inter. Resp. (Doc. 54-1) at # 14, 15. Rojas said he attended the Vigil to see if there was going to be a violation of the Establishment Clause. Rojas Depo. (Doc. 54-12) at Tr. 31. Rojas wishes for his community to be more inclusive, and hopes that future events involving his government will include all of Ocala's citizens, not only Christians. Rojas Depo. (Doc. 54-12) at Tr. 37. Rojas thought that the Police Department should represent everyone, but by involving itself in the Prayer Vigil it did not represent him. Id. at Tr. 25-26.

         Frances Jean Porgal attended the Vigil and, like Mr. Hale, recalled that at least one speaker was introduced from the stage as an Ocala Police Department Chaplain.[11] Porgal Depo. (Doc. 54-13) at Tr. 32. Porgal observed that “police representatives spent no time discussing the crimes that had recently occurred, ” or “requesting assistance” from the community, or urging people to come forward with information; instead, speakers prayed, preached, and sang. Porgal Inter. Resp. (Doc. 54-2) at # 8.

         The day after the Prayer Vigil, congratulatory emails circulated within the Ocala Police Department, thanking the Chief, Captains, Officers, Chaplains, and Ms. Haynes for their efforts regarding the Prayer Vigil. See Doc. 54-32 (marked Ex. 16). Captain Edwards sent an email to Ms. Haynes, Chaplain Quintana, copying Chief Graham and Officer Williams, thanking everyone for helping and “allow[ing] the PRAYER VIGIL to take place[, ]” remarking that “[t]here was opposition but Isaiah 54:17 says ‘No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn.'” Id. at 2 (capitalization in original; additional emphasis omitted). Edwards suggested a meeting to discuss the next steps including another possible vigil, and closed with, “‘Romans 8:28 ‘And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.'” Id. at 2 (emphasis omitted). Chaplain Quintana replied to Captain Edwards, saying “God bless you Captain for organizing” the Prayer Vigil, and saying he (Chaplain Quintana) was honored that Captain Edwards invited him. Id. at 4.

         Sometime thereafter, Chief Graham told Ms. Porgal about an anti-bullying rally scheduled for the Downtown Square where the Prayer Vigil had occurred. Ms. Porgal and the Hales attended and participated by carrying signs discouraging bullying in schools. D. Hale Depo. (Doc. 54-14) at Tr. 55; L. Hale Depo. (Doc. 54-15) at Tr. 31-32. Chief Graham testified that going forward, he would not permit the Chaplains to participate in public events while wearing their Ocala Police Department uniforms if the event involved leading prayers, not because it was necessarily inappropriate, but to keep from getting sued. Graham Depo. (Doc. 54-10) at Tr. 164-68. Subsequent public prayer events have been held in Ocala, at least one of which was organized and sponsored by a church. Id. at 74; Doc. 54-76 at 5.

         Two months after the Prayer Vigil, plaintiffs filed suit under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988(b) and are now seeking nominal damages, attorneys' fees, and costs against the City of Ocala, and Mayor Guinn and Chief Graham in their individual capacities, for their alleged violations of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.[12] See Docs. 1 and 22. The parties' cross-motions for summary judgment are now before the Court.

         III. Standard of Review

         “A district court must grant summary judgment ‘if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'” Atheists of Fla., Inc. v. City of Lakeland, 713 F.3d 577, 589 (11th Cir. 2013) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). In making this assessment, the court “view[s] all facts and reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” Id. (quotation, citation, and alteration omitted). Conclusory statements are insufficient to create a disputed issue as to a material fact. Carter v. City of Melbourne, 731 F.3d 1161, 1167 (11th Cir. 2013) (citation omitted). “Issues of fact are ‘genuine' only if a reasonable jury, considering the evidence presented, could find for the nonmoving party.” Id. (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986)). “The principles governing summary judgment do not change when the parties file cross-motions for summary judgment.”[13] T-Mobile S. LLC v. City of Jacksonville, 564 F.Supp.2d 1337, 1340 (M.D. Fla. 2008).

         IV. Discussion

         A. Standing

         Chief Graham and the City argue that plaintiffs lack standing to bring this case.[14] At issue here is Article III standing, which requires that plaintiffs show (1) they “have suffered an ‘injury-in-fact;'” (2) there is a “causal connection between the injury and the [defendants'] conduct;” and (3) the injury will “likely” “be redressed by a favorable decision.” Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992) (quotations and citations omitted). In an Establishment Clause case, a “non-economic injury which results from a party's being subjected to unwelcome religious statements” may be sufficient to demonstrate an “injury in fact” resulting from the defendant's conduct “so long as the parties are ‘directly affected by the laws and practices against whom their complaints are directed.'” Saladin v. City of Milledgeville, 812 F.2d 687, 692 (11th Cir. 1987) (quoting Sch. Dist. of Abington Twp. v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, 224 n.9 (1963)). Yet, a party must show more than a mere psychological suffering “produced by observation of conduct with which one disagrees.” Valley Forge Christian Coll. v. Ams. United for Separation of Church and State, Inc., 454 U.S. 464, 485 (1982). A “spiritual stake in First Amendment values” is not enough to show injury to support standing. ACLU v. Rabun Cty. Chamber of Commerce, Inc., 698 F.2d 1098, 1103 (11th Cir. 1983). However, where a party is forced to choose between being “subjected to unwelcome religious exercises” and being “forced to assume special burdens to avoid them, ” that party has suffered an injury in fact sufficient to support standing. Valley Forge, 454 U.S. at 486, n.22; see Saladin, 812 F.2d at 693 (holding plaintiffs who were City residents bore “more than an abstract interest” in having City remove word “Christianity” from its city seal, demonstrating an injury in fact).

         In Rabun County, a group of Georgia residents, motivated by their spiritual beliefs or commitment to the separation of church and state, challenged the placement of a large illuminated cross in Georgia's Black Rock Mountain State Park. 698 F.2d at 1101, 1107-08. The Eleventh Circuit found that, notwithstanding the plaintiffs' motivations in bringing suit, two of the plaintiffs demonstrated an injury in fact sufficient to create standing because they were residents of Georgia (albeit living more than 100 miles from Black Rock State Park), made use of the state parks, and their use of Black Rock was affected by “the physical and metaphysical impact of the cross.” Id. at 1107-08. Thus, they faced a “special burden” of having to use other parks, or using Black Rock, but being subjected to unwelcome religious symbolism if they did so. Id. at 1108. The Eleventh Circuit also stressed that the severity of the plaintiffs' injuries was irrelevant; so long as they demonstrated some direct stake in the outcome, as opposed to a mere interest in the matter, they had shown an injury in fact. Id. (quoting United States v. SCRAP, 412 U.S. 669, 689, n.14 (1973)); see also Pelphrey v. Cobb Cty., 547 F.3d 1263, 1279-80 (11th Cir. 2008) (finding plaintiff had standing to challenge invocation at planning commission meetings where he attended three meetings and watched other meetings on the internet).

         The Court found plaintiffs had standing when it ruled on defendants' motion to dismiss. See Doc. 22, adopting Report and Recommendation, Doc. 14. The factual development of the case since then further supports that determination. The undisputed facts reveal that the Hales are residents of Marion County who have attended events in the Downtown Square in Ocala. They saw the Ocala Police Department facebook page and attended the Prayer Vigil because they wanted to observe, but also because they have interest in being a part of the community and are concerned about crime. They attended the Prayer Vigil but were unable to participate in any of the activity because the speakers only invited the audience to pray and sing. The Hales have more than a mere interest in the matter. They have demonstrated an injury in fact. Similarly, Art Rojas lives and works in the City of Ocala. He saw the Ocala Police Department facebook page and attended the Prayer Vigil. He wants his community to be inclusive of all its residents, not just Christians. Like the Hales, Rojas has more than a mere interest in the matter and has demonstrated injury in fact.

         Having demonstrated injury in fact, the causal connection and redressability prongs of standing are easily satisfied here. Plaintiffs' injuries are causally connected to the Prayer Vigil which they contend was sponsored by the City of Ocala and its Chief of Police. If proven, an award of nominal damages for conduct that violated the Establishment Clause would redress their injuries. See, e.g., Amnesty Int'l, USA v. Battle, 559 F.3d 1170, 1177-78 (11th Cir. 2009) (explaining that § 1983 allows for the recovery of nominal damages when constitutional rights are violated but do not result in injury giving rise to compensatory damages); Covenant Media of S.C., LLC v. City of North Charleston, 493 F.3d 421, 428 (4th Cir. 2007) (holding that unconstitutional application of the law created a claim redressable by nominal damages); Rabun County, 698 F.2d at 1104, n.10 (explaining that the causal connection requirement was not at issue and, ...

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