Entire federal court of appeals will reconsider Rowan County prayer case

The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals will reconsider a case about the Rowan County Board of Commissioners’ current prayer policy.

The en banc review was granted in response to the ACLU of North Carolina asking the federal court to reconsider after a 2-1 ruling in September that reversed a U.S. District Court decision holding that the county’s state sponsored prayers violated the Constitution.

That panel decision is now vacated and all 15 judges on the federal court will review the lower court’s ruling.

“We’re very pleased that the full Fourth Circuit has agreed to review this practice that is clearly out of step with the First Amendment’s protection of religious liberty,” said Chris Brook, Legal Director of the ACLU-NC, which represents three Rowan County residents in a challenge to the commissioners’ policy. “When people attend meetings of their local government, they should not have to worry about being coerced to participate in a sectarian prayer that goes against their beliefs and being discriminated against by local officials when they don’t.”

In a dissent to the Fourth Circuit’s September ruling, Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson wrote that the facts in Rowan County are a “conceptual world apart” from an invocation practice previously upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Town of Greece v. Galloway.

“The message actually delivered in this case was not one of welcome but of exclusion,” he wrote. “It is the combination of the role of the commissioners, their instructions to the audience, their invocation of a single faith, and the local governmental setting that threatens to blur the line between church and state to a degree unimaginable in Town of Greece.”

For more about the case, click here.

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