Tuesday, March 6, 2012


By Michael Biesecker
The Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A Rowan County commissioner opened the board's Monday meeting with a Christian prayer, despite a warning from the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union that it would violate the law and potentially trigger a lawsuit.
As has long been the elected board's practice, Commissioner Jon Barber opened the public meeting with an invocation asking for a blessing in the name of Jesus.
The ACLU recently began contacting local governments across North Carolina after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., that found sectarian prayers at public meetings violate First Amendment protections. So far, at least 15 government bodies have changed their prayer policies.
An ACLU spokesman said Monday the group would now consider filing a lawsuit against Rowan County.
"The law is very clear that government officials cannot use sectarian prayers to open public meetings," said Mike Meno, communications manager for the ACLU of North Carolina. "As long as the commissioners continue to violate the law, they risk subjecting the county and its taxpayers to an unnecessary and costly legal challenge that they would ultimately lose, whether it is brought by the ACLU or some other entity."
The Salisbury Post (http://bit.ly/xUQwPx) reported that supporters of continuing the Christian prayers packed the meeting room Monday, while others sang hymns outside in the lobby. But there were also speakers during the board's public comment period who expressed opposition to continuing the sectarian prayers.
Of the 25 government bodies contacted by the ACLU, only the Rowan County board has flatly refused to make changes, according to the ACLU.
Four of the five commissioners of the Rowan board have said they plan to continue praying to Christ. They have said their prayers are different than those from the case out of Forsyth County considered by the 4th circuit, because individual commissioners take turns leading the prayer rather than volunteer local clergy.