Appeals Court Strikes Down N.C. County’s Meeting Prayer Practices

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down a North Carolina county’s practice of opening its meetings with overwhelmingly Christian prayers.

In a 10-5 ruling issued July 14, the appeals court’s majority found the Rowan County Commissioners’ invocations to be unconstitutional because the commissioners gave the prayers themselves and directed audience members to participate.  From 2007-13, 97 percent of the prayers were Christian.

Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson wrote for the majority that “The [First Amendment] does not permit a seat of government to wrap itself in a single faith.”

Nancy Lund, one of three Rowan County residents who joined the suit, welcomed the ruling.

“No one in this community should fear being forced by government officials to participate in a prayer, or fear being discriminated against because they didn’t participate in a prayer before a meeting for all the public,” Lund told the Charlotte Observer.

An attorney from First Liberty Institute, the Religious Right legal group representing the county, said it will likely appeal the case, Lund v. Rowan County, to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

First Liberty also is representing a Michigan county in a similar legislative prayer case, Bormuth v. County of Jackson, which was argued before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in June. Americans United filed friend-of-the-court briefs in both cases, and AU Legal Director Richard B. Katskee argued part of the Bormuth case before the full appeals court.