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NC County Resists Ban on Christian Prayers

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    (Photo: Rowan County Board of Commissioners)
    J. Newton Cohen, Sr. Rowan County Administration Building, meeting place of the Rowan County, North Carolina Board of Commissioners.
By Michael Gryboski, Christian Post Reporter
February 22, 2012|2:58 pm

A county government in North Carolina has continued to allow Christian prayers to be said at its meetings, even after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a lower court ruling that declared them unconstitutional.

Rowan County Board of Commissioners continues to open their meetings with prayers mentioning Jesus, even as the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina asked the state counties government to stop performing sectarian prayers.

"The practice of opening with an invocation has been ongoing for many years," said Chad Mitchell, member of Rowan County Board, in an interview with The Christian Post.

"The earliest book of minutes that we have easy access to is from February of 1971, and the Board of Commissioners at that time was using the same procedure of invocation as we are currently using."

According to Mitchell, the prayer policy the board has is that each commissioner is given a choice in rotation to give an opening prayer and they may say what they please.

"There have been commissioners, in the past, that have requested to not be included in the rotation," Mitchell said.

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"Their participation, or the content of their invocation, is at the total discretion of the individual commissioner."

Mike Meno, communications manager for the ACLU of North Carolina, told CP that the controversy stems from an earlier case the ACLU took on in Forsyth County, N.C.

"In 2007, the ACLU of North Carolina filed a lawsuit against the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners on behalf of … two longtime Winston-Salem residents who objected to the board's continued use of sectarian prayers," said Meno.

"The highest court to rule on this matter, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, agreed that any prayers in a government meeting 'must strive to be nondenominational so long as that is reasonably possible.'"

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from Forsyth County. Afterwards, the ACLU wanted the rest of the state to understand the Fourth Circuit's decision.

"Already, more than 15 local governments have voluntarily adopted nonsectarian prayers or a moment of silence in order to comply with the law and be more inclusive to religious minorities," said Meno.

"Rowan County – where we have received more complaints from local residents about government-endorsed sectarian prayers than anywhere else in North Carolina – has so far resisted the change."

Rowan County Commissioner Mitchell said to CP that unlike Forsyth County, the prayers at their meetings were delivered by board members rather than invited clergy.

"I think that any rational, reasonable person who reviews practice would conclude that our invocations simply set a tone for our meetings, while adhering to the time honored practice of beginning public meetings with an invocation," said Mitchell.

"The thought that one cannot use Jesus' name in a public meeting is wrong, and, at least in my opinion, is a violation of my personal First Amendment right guaranteeing free exercise of religion."

 

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