The City Council in Kannapolis, N.C., agreed March 26 to end the practice of praying aloud before regular meetings. Mayor Bob Misenheimer announced that future meetings would start with a “moment of silent prayer” instead.
FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott sent the mayor and council a letter March 14 informing them that the council’s sectarian prayers violated the Establishment Clause. FFRF’s letter focused on recent decisions in the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over North Carolina. In January, the Supreme Court let stand a decision by the appellate court that struck down sectarian prayers in Forsyth County, N.C.
Council member Ryan Dayvault said in a story in the Salisbury Post that the choice of the words “silent prayer” was deliberate. “We want to be clear, this is not just a moment of silence or reflection.”
Mike Legg, city manager, said, “The law is pretty clear, and that doesn’t paint a good picture of the outcome if [sectarian prayers] were to be challenged.”
According to the Post, the March 26 meeting had opened with this prayer by council member Randy Cauthen, “Tonight, we pray for those who want to restrict our right to pray. Father, open their minds and hearts to understand that our great country was founded on freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.” Cauthen closed with, “We ask these things in Jesus’ name, amen.”
North Carolina is currently a hotbed of government prayer controversy, according to Elliott. In nearby Rowan County, FFRF and the ACLU put the County Commission on notice that prayers to Jesus at every meeting are unconstitutional. The commissioners have refused to end the prayers, which may bring about legal action.
The North Carolina House and Senate also received letters from FFRF about sectarian prayers that open sessions. It remains to be seen if they will continue with the Christian prayers. Both houses reconvene April 23.