Court Strikes Down County Commission’s Prayers

Court Strikes Down County Commission’s Prayers May 7, 2015

A federal court in North Carolina has ruled that a pre-meeting prayer routine in Rowan county they’ve been using is unconstitutional even after the Greece v Galloway decision from the Supreme Court. The difference here is that it was the commission members that delivered the prayers, not local citizens.

A federal judge in Winston-Salem ruled Monday that the Rowan County Board of Commissioners’ practice of opening public meetings with their own Christian prayers between 2007 and 2013 violated the U.S. Constitution.

U.S. District Judge James Beaty of the Middle District of North Carolina wrote in his decision that the prayers advanced the commissioners’ Christian faith at the exclusion of other religions and effectively coerced participation by members of the public attending the meetings. Beaty also made permanent a temporary injunction from 2013 that forbade the commissioners from delivering their own prayers before the meetings.

“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 in the prayer practice of the board,” Beaty wrote. “The board’s practice fails to be non-discriminatory, entangles government with religion, and over time establishes a pattern of prayers that tends to advance the Christian faith of the elected commissioners at the expense of any religious denomination unrepresented by the majority.”…

“While an all-comers policy is not necessarily required, a nondiscriminatory one is,” Beaty wrote. “When all faiths but those of the five elected commissioners are excluded, the policy inherently discriminates and disfavors religious minorities.”

This ruling is absolutely correct, of course. Greece said that a local legislative body could have prayers before meetings, but it must be non-discriminatory. But by having the commissioners do it, all of them Christian, all other beliefs are locked out of the process.

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