N.C. County Appeals to Supreme Court in Case that Bans Christian Prayers

By:  Dave Bohon
10/31/2011
       
N.C. County Appeals to Supreme Court in Case that Bans Christian Prayers

A North Carolina county wants to resume its longtime practice of beginning government meetings with prayer, and is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a lower court ruling that bans prayers offered “in Jesus’ name.” As reported by The New American, in July the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, ruled against the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners’ tradition of beginning their meetings with mostly Christian prayers offered by local clergy. Specifically, two area residents sued the county after attending a county board meeting on December 17, 2007, in which a local pastor “thanked God for allowing the birth of His Son to forgive us for our sins and closed by making the prayer in the name of Jesus,” according to an Associated Press report.

Writing for the majority in the Fourth Circuit ruling, Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III noted that three-quarters of the prayers offered at the Forsyth County meetings between May 2007 and December 2008 were Christian themed, referring often to “Jesus,” “Jesus Christ,” and “Savior.” But “in order to survive constitutional scrutiny,” he explained, “invocations must consist of the type of nonsectarian prayers that solemnize the legislative task and seek to unite rather than divide. Sectarian prayers must not serve as the gateway to citizen participation in the affairs of local government. To have them do so runs afoul of the promise of public neutrality among faiths that resides at the heart of the First Amendment’s religion clauses.”
 

A North Carolina county wants to resume its longtime practice of beginning government meetings with prayer, and is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a lower court ruling that bans prayers offered “in Jesus’ name.” As reported by The New American, in July the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, ruled against the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners’ tradition of beginning their meetings with mostly Christian prayers offered by local clergy. Specifically, two area residents sued the county after attending a county board meeting on December 17, 2007, in which a local pastor “thanked God for allowing the birth of His Son to forgive us for our sins and closed by making the prayer in the name of Jesus,” according to an Associated Press report.

Writing for the majority in the Fourth Circuit ruling, Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III noted that three-quarters of the prayers offered at the Forsyth County meetings between May 2007 and December 2008 were Christian themed, referring often to “Jesus,” “Jesus Christ,” and “Savior.” But “in order to survive constitutional scrutiny,” he explained, “invocations must consist of the type of nonsectarian prayers that solemnize the legislative task and seek to unite rather than divide. Sectarian prayers must not serve as the gateway to citizen participation in the affairs of local government. To have them do so runs afoul of the promise of public neutrality among faiths that resides at the heart of the First Amendment’s religion clauses.”

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