Full Appeals Court Will Reconsider N.C. Prayer Case

A federal appeals court announced Nov. 1 that it will reconsider a ruling that allowed the Rowan County, N.C., Board of Commissioners to open its meetings with public prayers, most of which were Christian in nature.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 in September that the county’s invocation policy is legal. The case, Lund v. Rowan County, was brought on behalf of local residents by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Americans United, which filed a legal brief in the case urging that the policy be struck down, was disappointed by the September decision.

Under a procedure known as an en banc hearing, the entire panel of judges on the 4th Circuit, consisting of 15 jurists, will hear the case.

In Rowan County, opening prayers are led by members of the Board of Commissioners, not private citizens. In addition, people attending the meetings are often pressured to stand and take part.

Chris Brook, legal director of the North Carolina ACLU, welcomed the new review of the case. Brook said that allowing officials to open meetings with prayer discriminates against citizens whose views don’t align with the religion the board is promoting. 

“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,” Brook said.