Forsyth County in North Carolina could owe about $100,000 in legal fees if a federal judge finds them liable for promoting Christianity at their regular meetings. All of this could’ve been avoided if they simply used their common sense and kept religion out of the government.
A federal magistrate has recommended that prayers referencing Jesus and other sectarian deities made before meetings of the Forsyth County Commissioners are unconstitutional.
The decision, by Magistrate Judge P. Trevor Sharp, was in favor of the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit against Forsyth County on behalf of Janet Joyner and Constance Blackmon, residents of Forsyth County who have attended commissioners’ meetings.
“The defendant’s prayer alienates those whose beliefs differ from Christian beliefs and divides citizens along religious lines,” said Katy Parker, one of the attorneys with the ACLU.
“The government has to remain neutral on matters of religion, and that’s what the Establishment Clause is all about — that the government can’t pick sides,” she said.
Other cities are sometimes allowed to get away with this because they invite people from several religious faiths and no faith at all — and all of them may only give a non-sectarian prayer, that is, no mention of one particular deity or another.
That wasn’t the case here, though. The magistrate’s decision is precise and blunt (PDF) in explaining how Jesus-centric Forsyth County prayers were:
The undisputed record shows that the prayers delivered at the outset of Board meetings from May 29, 2007 through December 15, 2008 referred to Jesus, Jesus Christ, Christ, or Savior with overwhelming frequency… No non- Christian deities are invoked… These prayers as a whole cannot be considered non- sectarian or civil prayer. They display a preference for Christianity over other religions by the government.
“Overwhelming frequency” means 26 out of 33 invocations contained a reference to Jesus or the like.
Again, this is an easy problem to fix.
Remove prayers before meetings.
You want to pray? Do it on your own time. You don’t need to force the rest of the city (or at least those who attend meetings) to do it with you. Why is that so damn difficult to comprehend?
But apparently, the requirement that religion be kept private is too much for these Christians to deal with. The Alliance Defense Fund (defending the county) has not yet released a statement on the matter as far as I can tell…
(Thanks to Michael for the link)