Appeals court: Board’s prayer practice is unconstitutional

The Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. — Elected officials’ practice of opening meetings in North Carolina with Christian prayer and inviting audience members to join is unconstitutional, a federal appeals court ruled Friday in a closely watched case likely headed for the U.S. Supreme Court.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that found Rowan County commissioners’ prayer practice to be “unconstitutionally coercive.”

The Supreme Court already has ruled that it’s appropriate for local clergy to deliver predominantly Christian prayers and town meetings in New York. The question in the Rowan County case was whether it makes a difference that the prayers were given by the commissioners themselves and whether their invitation for the audience to join them in prayer is coercive.

The 4th Circuit ruled that because the commissioners were the exclusive prayer givers, their practice “falls well outside the more inclusive, ministered-oriented practice” endorsed by the Supreme Court.

“The prayer practice served to identify the government with Christianity and risked conveying to citizens of minority faiths a message of exclusion,” the majority opinion said.

The full 4th Circuit heard the case in March after a divided three-judge panel said Rowan County commissioners had a constitutional right to open meetings with prayers as long as they don’t pressure observers to participate.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on behalf of non-Christians who say the prayers made them feel excluded and sent the message that the board favored a particular religion. The prayers included almost exclusively Christian references and the commission’s five members invited audience members to stand and participate.

The ACLU noted that Rowan County commissioners directed the public to participate, with phrases such as “please pray with me,” and used language that could be seen as proselytizing, like “I pray that the citizens of Rowan County will love you Lord.”

Attorneys for Rowan County said commissioners don’t force anyone to participate, noting that people can leave the room or stay seated during the prayer. Since the district court’s decision deeming the prayers unconstitutional, the commission has invited a volunteer chaplain to lead prayer.

Nan Lund, one of the Rowan County residents who brought the case, said in March that residents who don’t agree with the prayers fear they may not be treated fairly before the board if they don’t participate.

“They don’t forget,” Lund told reporters after the 4th Circuit hearing. “Maybe they don’t deliberately target you, but they don’t forget who those people are who didn’t stand and pray.”

SportsPlus

McNeese Sports

Southland welcomes two new members

Local News

Supreme Court rules ex-presidents have broad immunity, dimming chance of a pre-election Trump trial

Business

Names in the News: People shaping the future of Lake Area business

life

On Campus: SW La. students recognized for achievements

Local News

How will Louisiana’s new Ten Commandments classroom requirement be funded and enforced?

Local News

Biden meets with his family amid pressures to step down after debate

Local News

Donation celebrated by Second Harvest, but volunteers are still needed

Local News

Grand Avenue Gym: DeQuincy landmark fading fast, group fighting to save it says

Local News

Beryl becomes major hurricane forecast to bring life-threatening conditions to Caribbean

life

Fourth of July festivities in Jennings will kick off with Stars and Stripes Festival

Local News

Ceremony held at Fort Johnson for deploying troops

Jim Beam

Jim Beam column:Don’t expect new candidates

life

SW La. nightlife calendar: There’s always something to do

life

USAF Band of the West making Lake Charles stop

high-school Sports

Upgrades planned for Jerry Simmons football stadium in Jennings

Crime

Lafayette teen charged in Ernest Street fatal shooting

Crime

6/28: Calcasieu Parish Sheriff announces arrest list

Local News

Longhorns make quite a statement to the SEC

Local News

Bicyclist fatally struck after allegedly running stop sign

Local News

PHOTO GALLERY: Stitch Guillory sworn in as sheriff

Local News

Sheriff Guillory: ‘I am living MLK’s dream’

Local News

Supreme Court allows cities to enforce bans on homeless people sleeping outside

Local News

Work begins on new artificial reef off Cameron coast to provide habitat

Local News

Trump, Biden square off for the first time in the 2024 election season