ACLU Tries To Prevent Government Prayers In North Carolina

Casey Harper | Contributor

The ACLU and several church and state separation groups have teamed up to keep one North Carolina county from holding Christian prayers before official meetings.

The Rowan County Commission has been banned from praying before meetings by a court order since March 2013, after the ACLU sued the commission. A federal court ruled this May the prayers were coercive and a violation of the First Amendment, but the county has appealed the ruling.

The ACLU says that from 2007 to 2013 more than 97 percent of the prayers were Christian, which is important, because the key Supreme Court ruled in Town of Greece v. Galloway that prayers are allowed before meetings, if the prayers can be given by people of any faith and are not given by elected officials.

“When Plaintiffs wish to advocate for local issues in front of the Board, they should not be faced with the choice between staying seated and unobservant, or acquiescing to the prayer practice of the Board,” U.S. District Judge James Beaty wrote in his ruling.

The American Humanist Association, which joined a number of similar groups to file an amicus curiae brief in the North Carolina case Thursday. The group has a similar case in Maryland, where it filed a lawsuit against Carroll County for having board members perform prayers on a rotating basis.

“They’re both involving whether its constitutional for county commissioners to be delivering prayers before board meetings,” Monica Miller, senior counsel for the AHA’s legal center, told TheDCNF.

The North Carolina case awaits appeal, and there has not yet been a hearing in AHA’s Maryland suit.

“Local governments must remain religiously neutral and uphold their citizens’ right to freedom from religious coercion by the state, especially because the board’s decisions directly impact their financial well-being and daily lives,” Miller said in a statement.

“When the Commissioners, as opposed to private citizens, deliver prayers at board meetings, they send a strong message to non-Christian citizens of Rowan County that they are unflavored by their own government. They also send the message that Christians are favored members of the community.”

The board did not respond to request for comment in time for publication.

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Tags : american civil liberties union american humanist association maryland north carolina
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