AU Opposes Sectarian Prayers At S.C. Council Meetings

Americans United has urged a federal appeals court to reject a South Carolina town council's policy of opening its meetings with sectarian prayers.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in February, Americans United argued that the Great Falls Town Council's practice of naming Jesus Christ in prayers before its meetings violates the First Amendment. Americans United urged the appeals court to uphold U.S. District Judge Cameron McGowan Currie's decision from last summer striking the town council's invocation policy.

In August 2001, Great Falls resident Darla Kay Wynne sued the town's mayor and council in federal court, arguing that their practice of excluding prayers referencing non-Christian beliefs violated the separation of church and state. Great Falls Mayor H.C. "Speedy" Starnes Jr. testified before Judge Currie that most of the town's residents are Christian and that the council would likely continue including Christian references in its pre-meeting prayers, unless others with different faiths were elected to the council.

Judge Currie ruled in Wynne v. Town of Great Falls that the council's prayer policy "does not have a secular purpose but, instead, proselytizes or advances a particular faith in this case, Christianity."

The 4th Circuit is likely to hear oral arguments in the case this spring.