Court Rules Prayer Can Continue At NC County Meetings

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Mary Lou Lang Contributor
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A court of appeals Monday ruled in favor of a North Carolina county’s right to open their meetings with prayer in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 in favor of Rowan County, North Carolina county commissioners in the lawsuit by the ACLU which challenged their constitutional right to open their meetings with prayer.

The ruling reversed an earlier decision by North Carolina’s U.S. Middle District Court that claimed the commissioners’ prayer at the beginning of each meeting was unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge James Beaty in May held that the Rowan commissioners violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which bans government endorsement of a single religion. Between 2007 and 2013, the commissioners who delivered prayers were all Christians.

However, the appeals court found it insignificant that only Christian prayers were provided before meetings. In its 73-page ruling today, the court pointed out that the prayers are not to be considered “proselytizing” but also interpreted in other attendees’ views.

“The point here is not to pick apart these prayers or to measure objectively their proselytizing content. It is to consider how this language might fall on the ears of Hindu attendees, Jewish attendees, Muslim attendees, or others who do not share the commissioners’ particular view of salvation or their religious beliefs,” the court said in its ruling.

“It is not right to think that adherents of minority faiths are ‘hypersensitive.’ If we Christians were a religious minority, we would surely be sensitive to the invariable commencement of town hall meetings through invocation of a faith to which we did not subscribe. And if religious faith was not a matter of sensitivity, then why would two of our Constitution’s best known and most prominent provisions have been devoted to it,” the court said.

“The First Amendment affirms the freedom to open public meetings with prayer,” said Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, in a prepared statement on Monday evening.

“The Supreme Court long ago ruled that prayer before state legislative bodies is constitutional because such practice predates the First Amendment. The Supreme Court recently ruled that there is no constitutional difference between state legislative bodies and local governing bodies,” Staver said.

“The Founders never imagined that prayer at the beginning of legislative sessions would be questioned under the First Amendment. Today’s decision comports with the intent of the First Amendment,” said Staver.