GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A pastor who advocates for the LGBTQ+ community is suing Ottawa County, the Board of Commissioners and Board Chair Joe Moss for religious discrimination, saying Moss did not allow him to lead an invocation because Moss personally disagrees with the pastor’s religious beliefs, court documents show.
The complaint was filed Tuesday on behalf of the Rev. Jared Cramer, the priest at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven.
Each commission meeting begins with an invocation or prayer, which is usually led by a church leader, according to the complaint.
Before 2023, various commissioners took turns choosing who would lead the invocation — but when Moss became chair, he alone began to choose who would lead the invocation, the complaint alleged.
The complaint accused Moss of only choosing people with similar religious beliefs as him to lead the invocation. Many invocations have included praise for the conservative group Ottawa Impact, which Moss co-founded, and all of Moss’ picks have been men, according to the lawsuit.
Cramer said he had previously led the invocation, before Moss became chair — but when Cramer reached out to Moss asking to do so again via both email and mail, he allegedly never heard back.
The complaint accused Moss of not responding because Moss disagrees with Cramer’s religious beliefs. Cramer said his church welcomes LGBTQ+ people, and he himself has consistently advocated for including the LGBTQ+ community in religious life.
Meanwhile, the complaint characterizes Moss as having “championed an anti-LGBTQ+ agenda as Chairperson” and having “dedicated some of his efforts (to) undoing the County’s efforts at inclusion.”
The Board of Commissioners does not have a non-discriminatory policy that allows people of all religious beliefs to offer the invocation, per the complaint. Instead, Moss allegedly uses his personal beliefs to choose the leaders.
The complaint accused Moss, the board and the county of advancing one set of religious beliefs while excluding others, ultimately violating the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
The lawsuit requested that the Board of Commissioners establish a non-discrimination policy for choosing people to lead the invocations and allow Cramer to lead invocations, as well as pay punitive damages, reasonable attorney fees and other “just and equitable” relief.