The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina (ACLU) has a bone to pick with the Rowan County Board of Commissioners. As TheBlaze reported in Feb. 2012, the two parties’ ongoing battle over prayer at public meetings began long ago — and it’s nowhere near over.
Despite a lower court ruling that found prayers at local government meetings in Forsyth County (another community in North Carolina) unconstitutional and the Supreme Court’s subsequent refusal to hear the case, officials in Rowan County aren’t backing down. They, too, have been beginning meetings with invocations — a practice they don’t plan on giving up. As a result, county commissioners become the ACLU’s most recent target of legal action over sectarian prayer at government meetings.
It was last year that the Rowan County Board of Commissioners first defied pressure from the ACLU to cease Christian prayers; the organization called these invocations unconstitutional and has continued to maintain this stance.
At the time, one of the board members (and the county commissioner), Chad Mitchell, defended the prayers said at the opening of each meeting. Apparently, board members are given the chance, via rotation, to give a prayer if they so choose. In the past, some have opted not to be included in the rotation (a choice that the group deems perfectly acceptable).
“The practice of opening with an invocation has been ongoing for many years,” Mitchell explained at the time. ”The earliest book of minutes that we have easy access to is from February of 1971, and the Board of Commissioners at that time was using the same procedure of invocation as we are currently using.”
More than a year after the initial spat took place, the ACLU has filed suit, seeking a preliminary injunction that would halt sectarian prayer and seek financial retribution, the Salisbury Post reports. The outlet has more about the current case:
Three Rowan County residents — Nan Lund, Liesa Montag-Siegel and Bob Voelker — are listed as plaintiffs in the suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Greensboro. [...]
The lawsuit asks for a preliminary injunction requiring commissioners to stop the sectarian prayer. It also asks for a permanent injunction, that the county pay $1 in damages and that Rowan pay the ACLU’s legal fees.
In a meeting with Post editors and reporters Tuesday, Lund, Montag-Siegel and Voelker said the board’s opening prayer not only makes them feel excluded, but has also impaired their advocacy on other issues.
“Defendant’s invocation practice has the primary purpose and effect of promoting and advancing one particular faith, Christianity,” the lawsuit charges, as the plaintiffs hold that the meetings’ openings are discriminatory in nature.
The commissioners say they may discuss the lawsuit on Monday’s meeting and that they will weigh legal opinions to see how they should progress. That said, some were less-than-surprised by the lawsuit’s filing, as they refused to comply with the ACLU’s warning, which came more than 12 months ago.
As for the civil rights organization, its leaders say that the lapse in time was allowed in hopes that Rowan County officials would comply with its demands. This was obviously an aspiration that went unfulfilled.
If Vice Chairman Craig Pierce’s response is any indication, it’s likely the ACLU is going to have a battle on its hands. While the group anxiously awaits an injunction to halt the prayers, Pierce told the Post that he still plans on opening next Monday’s meeting with an invocation.
“I’ve prayed all my life, I’m not going to change now,” he said, claiming that he has a First Amendment right to do so. “If I’m told by the courts that I can’t pray in session, then we’ll have to accommodate that…”
Pierce isn’t alone, either, as the four other Rowan County commissioners agree that prayers should continue.
In the coming days, the public’s reaction to the current spat will be evident. Last year, dozens of citizens showed up to support prayer. Next week, the same reaction could follow.
(H/T: Salisbury Post)
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