NC County Tries to Reinstate Previous Prayer Policy Following Supreme Court's Greece Ruling

Commissioners of a North Carolina county are asking a federal judge to overturn a previous ruling and allow sectarian prayer at their local government meetings. The request comes after the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the town of Greece, N.Y., saying it did not violate the U.S. Constitution when it allowed Christian prayer at the start of its town meetings.

Commissioners of Forsyth County, N.C., voted unanimously this week to request an overturn of a federal judge's ruling that banned sectarian prayer from being held at their commission meetings.

The commission had previously invited various clergy members to deliver the opening prayer at their meetings, until they were sued in 2007 for allegedly violating the U.S. Constitution by holding sectarian prayers at government meetings. In 2010, a federal judge ruled that the county must stop sectarian prayers, and the local government also lost at an appellate level.

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Since the 2010 ruling, Forsyth County has opted to hold moments of silence and nonsectarian prayers ahead of their commission meetings. Commissioners argue that their previous prayer policy was strikingly similar to the prayer policy held by Greece, N.Y., when the upstate New York town was sued by local residents who argued the town meeting prayers were unconstitutional because they favored Christianity over other religions.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in a 5 to 4 ruling that Greece's city council had not violated the U.S. Constitution with their prayer policy. The justices wrote in their opinion that because the city council did not discriminate against which faiths could deliver the prayer, and did not attempt to coerce nonbelievers into saying the prayer, that it had not broken the law. The justices also cited the long-held practice of saying prayer at Congress and state-legislature sessions as a reason to allow Greece to continue with its prayer policy.

Forsyth County attorney Davida Martin told The Associated Press that her county's previous prayer policy is virtually identical to the prayer policy of Greece, N.Y., and she hopes to make quick progress on learning how the county can return to its old prayer policy.

The Rev. Steve Corts, who had previously raised money to pay for court fees in Forsyth County's appeal process, told the Winston-Salem Journal that he sees the recent Supreme Court ruling as a "vindication" of his own town's legal fight.

"The case that we presented is not very much dissimilar from the case presented in Greece versus Galloway," Corts, senior pastor at Center Grove Baptist Church, said.

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