Court rules prayer before Rowan Co. commissioner meetings violates Constitution

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — A federal court ruled Monday that the Rowan County Board of Commissioners violated the Constitution by having prayers before public meetings.

The ruling stated the prayers advanced beliefs specific to one religion and that between 2007 and 2013 more than 97 percent of prayers were specific to Christianity.

PDF: Decision on prayer at Rowan County meetings

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation and national ACLU Program on the Freedom of Religion and Belief filed a lawsuit challenging the commissioners' prayer practice in March 2013 on behalf of Rowan County residents Nan Lund, Robert Voelker and Liesa Montag-Siegel.

"I felt we were vindicated," Voelker said.

After a two-year court battle, Voelker and Lund are celebrating a judge's ruling in their favor and against Rowan County commissioners pushing to pray at the start of their meetings.

"This is a first amendment issue to us. We think anyone who gets elected should be able to pray no matter what faith they are," said Commissioner Mike Caskey.

Lund, Voelker and a third plaintiff filed a lawsuit because all of the commissioners happened to be Christian and their prayers followed their faith.
"It made me uncomfortable, partly for myself and also for other people in the community," said Lund.

Since their filing, hundreds in the community have rallied around the commissioners.

Monday district judge James Beaty sided with the plaintiffs and the ACLU, stating since the commissioners are the only people praying at meetings "The prayers are thus effectively being delivered by the government itself" and "The board's practice fails to be nondiscriminatory and entangles government with religion."

For now though, commissioners can still pray, they just have to exclude key Christian terms, like Jesus.
"I would not want to compromise. If I believe in Jesus, I want to be able to pray to Jesus," said professor and county resident Troy Russell.

So do the commissioners who say they may appeal.

"I hope it's over, it's been going on for a long time," Lund said.

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