The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 in favor of Rowan County, North Carolina county commissioners in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union challenging their constitutional right to open their meetings with prayer.
This ruling by the appeals court reversed an earlier decision by North Carolina's U.S. Middle District Court that claimed Rowan County's commissioners' prayers at the beginning of each meeting were unconstitutional. In May, U.S. District Judge James Beaty held that the Rowan commissioners violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, which bans government endorsement of a single religion. Between 2007 and 2013, the commissioners who delivered prayers were all Christians. However, the appeals court found it insignificant that only Christian prayers were provided before meetings.
"The First Amendment affirms the freedom to open public meetings with prayer," said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. "The Supreme Court long ago ruled that prayer before state legislative bodies is constitutional because such practice predates the First Amendment. The Supreme Court recently ruled that there is no constitutional difference between state legislative bodies and local governing bodies. The Founders never imagined that prayer at the beginning of legislative sessions would be questioned under the First Amendment. Today's decision comports with the intent of the First Amendment," said Staver.