Appeals court: Rowan commissioners’ prayers unconstitutional
    July 17 2017 by BR Staff

    Rowan County commissioners violated the United States Constitution by opening meetings with commissioner-led Christian prayers and inviting the audience to join, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 10-5 on July 14.

    Screenshot from video
    Rowan County commissioners stand to pray before their July 5 meeting in Salisbury.


    The commissioners could decide to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Charlotte Observer reported July 15 that at least two of the five commissioners were ready to appeal.
     
    In 2014, the Supreme Court decided in Town of Greece v. Galloway that clergy can offer prayers to open town board meetings. However, the 4th Circuit emphasized that because commissioners exclusively gave the prayers, and 97 percent of prayers in recent years were Christian in context, Rowan County’s practice “falls well outside the more inclusive, minister-oriented practice of legislative prayer described in Town of Greece.”
     
    Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III wrote in the majority opinion, “The great promise of the Establishment Clause is that religion will not operate as an instrument of division in our nation. Consistent with this principle, there is a time-honored tradition of legislative prayer that reflects the respect of each faith for other faiths and the aspiration, common to so many creeds, of finding higher meaning and deeper purpose in these fleeting moments each of us spends upon this earth.
     
    “Instead of drawing on this tradition, Rowan County elevated one religion above all others and aligned itself with that faith. It need not be so.”
     
    The prayer debate started in 2012 when the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) requested commissioners stop praying at meetings. In 2013, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of three non-Christian residents who said the prayers made them feel excluded.
     
    According to WRAL, Rowan County attorneys argued that commissioners did not coerce audience members to participate and allowed them to leave the room or stay seated during prayers.
     
    A district court ruled the county’s practice unconstitutional in 2015. In 2016, a three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit overturned that decision and upheld the commissioners’ right to pray. All 15 judges of the full 4th Circuit agreed to hear the case again in March, leading to the July 14 decision.
     

    7/17/2017 1:53:00 PM by BR Staff | with 2 comments
    Filed under: Government, Prayer, Religious liberty




Comments
Allan Blume
Les,
We would need to ask the lawyers who represent the Salisbury council, since they know the law and they are the ones considering the next steps to take. However, my guess is that the May 5, 2014 ruling you are referring to deals with members of the public who led prayers for legislative bodies. The Salisbury council members were actually leading the prayers in this case.
7/19/2017 2:17:42 PM

Leslie Puryear
It is my understanding that the Supreme Court has already ruled in this issue. On May 5, 2017, the Washington Post reported "A divided Supreme Court ruled Monday that legislative bodies such as city councils can begin their meetings with prayer, even if it plainly favors a specific religion.The court ruled 5 to 4 that Christian prayers said before meetings of an Upstate New York town council did not violate the constitutional prohibition against government establishment of religion; the justices cited history and tradition."

What am I missing about the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling?
7/19/2017 11:13:00 AM

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