FFRF weighs in on N.C. legislative prayer case

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief filed yesterday with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals asking the court to strike down the Rowan County Board of Commissioners’ practice of coercing citizens to participate in Christian prayers at its meetings.

Since at least November 2007, Rowan County officials opened their meetings with Christian prayers nearly 100 percent of the time. These Christian prayers, which were given by the commissioners themselves, repeatedly referenced “Jesus” and “the Savior” and urged Rowan County residents to “love you lord and put you first.” The commissioners also instructed attendees to join in those prayers.

In May, U.S. District Court Judge James A. Beaty said Rowan County’s prayer practice was a constitutional problem because it discriminated against non-Christians and coerced residents into participating in religious practices. The commissioners appealed that decision.

In the recent Supreme Court case Greece v. Galloway, upholding legislative prayer in some cases, “the Court did not write [local] governments a blank check to impose religion on unwilling citizens,” the brief opens. The commission’s practices “put intolerable pressure on citizens—including religious minorities and nonbelievers—to violate their conscience by participating in Christian religious exercises.”

Americans United for Separation of Church and State authored the brief. In addition to FFRF, it was joined by the American Humanist Association, Anti-Defamation League, Center for Inquiry, Interfaith Alliance Foundation, Sikh Coalition, Union for Reform Judaism and Women of Reform Judaism.

“The Rowan County commissioners are sending a clear message to their constituents: If you don’t participate in our Christian prayers, you are not welcome here,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “No government should ever pressure its citizens to participate in religious exercises.”

“We are pleased to be able to sign on to this brief protesting the unequal treatment non-Christians receive in Rowan County,” said FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “Citizens are compelled to come before the commission on important civic matters, and should not be required to either make a public showing of their nonbelief or show deference to a religious sentiment they do not believe in to participate in their local government.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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