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Court Rules Public Meeting Prayers Discriminatory

Rowan County commissioners can no longer open public meetings with a prayer if it’s given by them. A federal court ruled the practice is discriminatory.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina on behalf of three Rowan County residents in 2013. They objected to 97 percent of county commission meetings being opened with commissioners saying Christian prayers.

Monday federal district court Judge James Beaty ruled that the practice was discriminatory. ACLU legal director Chris Brook welcomed the decision.

“I did think that we had a very compelling case and a very strong argument to make that Rowan county had put a huge obstacle in the way of full participation in their meetings for a large percentage of Rowan county  residents and we were confident that a judge would look at the law and find such a practice objectionable and unconstitutional,” Brooks said.

Last year, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that a New York town did not violate the constitution by opening its meetings with prayers. But those were different from Rowan county in that the prayers were delivered by clergy and residents, not government officials, on a first come basis and represented diverse religions. Brook says the ACLU does not object to opening meetings with prayers, as long as the process is open, inclusive and reflects the diversity of Rowan county..