The years-long fight over a North Carolina county commission's practice of opening meetings with Christian prayers and inviting audience members to join is over, with commissioners agreeing to pay $285,000 in legal fees.
The Salisbury Post reports that Rowan County commissioners on Monday unanimously approved the payment to the American Civil Liberties Union, in conjunction with a December court order....
The Supreme Court already has ruled that it's appropriate for local clergy to deliver predominantly Christian prayers and town meetings in New York. The question in the Rowan County case was whether it makes a difference that the prayers were given by the commissioners themselves and whether their invitation for the audience to join them in prayer was coercive.
The 4th Circuit, located in Richmond, Virginia, stressed that it's not inherently unconstitutional for lawmakers to lead prayers. But the fact that the Rowan County commissioners were the exclusive prayer givers combined with them consistently invoking one faith and inviting the audience members to participate sent the message that they preferred Christianity above other religions, the court said.
"The principle at stake here may be a profound one, but it is also simple. The Establishment Clause does not permit a seat of government to wrap itself in a single faith," Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III wrote in the majority opinion that was joined by nine other judges.
From Salisbury Post Editorial: Was prayer lawsuit worth the price?
to be clear, judges did not rule against Christian prayer generally nor its ability to be spoken at the start of meetings — a fact that seemed to get lost at times. The case was narrowly tailored to whether commissioners, themselves, could pray and whether prayers from 2007 to 2013 crossed a line into proselytizing, among other things.
As 4th Circuit Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson wrote in the 2017 ruling against Rowan County, “free religious exercise can only remain free if not influenced and directed by the hand of the state. On this score, the county simply went too far.”
We were particularly perplexed by a statement by Commissioner Judy Klusman in the story about Monday’s meeting.
“The thing that really disturbs me is that no matter what the county would have done, we’d be paying the ACLU money,” Klusman said. “I just hate that it’s going to be taxpayer money going to pay for this. I’d much rather have that money going into schools.”
Surely commissioners considered a loss was possible and that taxpayer money could be required to pay the bill. If not, that seems to be a significant oversight for a matter that received unanimous support more than once.
I remind that Somervell County County Commissioners Court has also been doing the same thing that Rowan County got smacked down for. All the way through 2018, Danny Chambers, Somervell County Judge, has been inviting one commissioner to either "lead a prayer" or "say a prayer for the Court", thus continually violating the establishment clause of the constitution. Here is the record of Somervell County, including audio. It appears to me that Chambers is still thumbing his nose at the constitution, which he swore to uphold by having a commisioner from the dais "say a prayer for the court", as well as prayer by only one person and with only one faith represented. It is bigoted to do this, and shows contempt for the values of our country. Plus, as Rowan County found out, it is illegal and now they have to pay a sizeable amount of money in court costs.
P.S. Along the same lines, a school district in California ceased all legal activity in the 2016 court decision that ended sanctioned prayer and proselytizing at school board meetings.
The district has lost several court appeals regarding the case since 2016 and the next step would have been an appeal to The U.S. Supreme Court.
Last month, the full Ninth Circuit Court refused to hear the case, setting in motion the possible appeal to the Supreme Court.
P.P. S. Let's compare with what Dallas County commiissioners have done, by inviting a man to do a muslim prayer.
The commissioners regularly invite religious leaders to pray at the beginning of meetings. Often, the prayer is Christian, but Jewish and Muslim prayers aren’t uncommon.
“We are seeing more and more people from all various religions come to this metroplex,” Jenkins said. “We want it to be an open and welcoming place where people can freely express their faith and do so in a way that doesn’t engender hatred from other people.”