4th Circuit panel overturns lower court ruling in Rowan prayer case

ROWAN COUNTY, N.C. — A panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided in a 2-1 vote it is legal for commissioners to pray before meetings.

The decision said the prayer "falls within our recognized tradition" and is constitutional.

Rowan County Commissioner Craig Pierce was relieved by the decision.

"We’re glad with the decision that came down and I hope that this can put an end to it so we can move onto more important things for the county,” Pierce said.

It's a debate that has divided the county for years.

The American Civil Liberties Union first brought the federal lawsuit in 2013 on behalf of three county residents.

At the time, hundreds came out to support commissioners. Last year a lower court sided with the ACLU, calling it unconstitutional for the all Christian board to continue praying since they're the only ones praying.

That U.S. District Court judge called the practice of directing the audience to stand and pray coercive.

But the appeals court said the practice isn't coercive and "similar invitations have been routinely offered for over two centuries."
A spokesperson for the ACLU said the group plans to ask the full 15-judge panel of the 4th Circuit to review the case again.

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