Appeals court rules against politician-led prayer at public meetings
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday against a North Carolina county board of commissioners that opens its meetings with prayer and invites audience members to join in. The court declared the Rowan County commissioners’ practice “unconstitutionally coercive.” “The prayer practice served to identify the government with Christianity and risked conveying to citizens of minority faiths a message of exclusion,” Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson wrote in the majority opinion joined by nine other judges. Five judges joined a dissenting opinion accusing the majority of attempting to purge prayer from government assemblies. A three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit ruled in favor of the county, as long as the commissioners didn’t pressure audience members to participate. The plaintiffs, two non-Christian Rowan County residents, asked for a full, en banc hearing. The U.S. Supreme Court has previously ruled in favor of clergy-led public prayer at government meetings, but the Rowan County case raises the issue of prayer offered by public servants. Only the commissioners in Rowan County lead pre-meeting prayers. The county’s attorneys have not said whether they intend to appeal to the Supreme Court.
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