The Rowan County Board of Commissioners is defying a court decision that found Christian prayers being uttered at its meetings unconstitutional. The local government's decision to continue permitting the prayers comes after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case, thus substantiating a lower court ruling.
One of the board members (and the county commissioner), Chad Mitchell, defended the prayers said at each meeting's opening. Apparently, each board member is given the chance, via a rotation, to give a prayer if he or she so chooses. In the past, some have opted not to be included in the rotation.
"The practice of opening with an invocation has been ongoing for many years," Mitchell explained. "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."
The Associated Press has more:
A huge crowd turned out for the Rowan Board of Commissioners meeting Monday night to offer their support to the elected officials, who say they'll defy a decision by the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals striking down sectarian prayer in Forsyth County, or prayer that's explicitly linked to a particular religion, such as Christianity.
"If they tell county commissioners they can't pray, soon they're going to be in my church telling me I can't pray in the name of Jesus," said Terry Brown, a county resident who came to the meeting.
The Christian Post continues with more on how the debate started:
Mike Meno, communications manager for the ACLU of North Carolina, told CP that the controversy stems from an earlier case the ACLU took on in Forsyth County, N.C.
"In 2007, the ACLU of North Carolina filed a lawsuit against the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners on behalf of … two longtime Winston-Salem residents who objected to the board's continued use of sectarian prayers," said Meno.
"The highest court to rule on this matter, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, agreed that any prayers in a government meeting 'must strive to be nondenominational so long as that is reasonably possible.'"
While the ACLU had hoped that the entire state would embrace the decision, Rowan County has, thus far, refused (and they are reportedly the only county in the state to do so). Mitchell argues that the Christian prayers being uttered differ because they are said by board members and not clergy.
"The thought that one cannot use Jesus' name in a public meeting is wrong, and, at least in my opinion, is a violation of my personal First Amendment right guaranteeing free exercise of religion," Mitchell said.
It will be interesting to see how the ACLU handles the case moving forward.
(H/T: Christian Post)