By Pam Blume
Christian Action League
March 13, 2015
WINSTON-SALEM – In November of last year, a victory was won for religious liberty when a federal District Court lifted its 2010 injunction against the prayer policy of the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners.
The board had been sued by the ACLU and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State on behalf of three individuals who claimed to have been offended by references to Jesus Christ in prayers offered before county commission meetings.
During the ensuing five-year legal battle, the commissioners had opened meetings themselves with either a moment of silence or a generic, non-sectarian prayer.
The injunction against Forsyth’s prayer policy had been upheld by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals and an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was rejected in 2012.
Then last year, in a similar case, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of the town of Greece, NY, saying that the prayers of Christian ministers did not violate the Constitution because of the town’s inclusive policy for selecting invocation participants.
This opened the door for Forsyth to request that the injunction against their policy be lifted, which the District Court did in November.
With the election of new commissioners in November, the Forsyth board waited until the new board was seated to discuss revamping the prayer policy. The policy was approved unanimously March 9th with the possibility of scheduling invocation participants as early as next month.
The new policy directs the county to publish a notice inviting “religious leaders or chosen leaders of any assembly that periodically and regularly meets in Forsyth County for the purpose of worshipping or discussing their religious perspectives” to offer an invocation before county commissioner meetings.
Groups that respond will be listed on a first-come, first-served basis and will get to designate who will pray. The content of the invocation will not be required to be reviewed by the board.
Invocation speakers “are free to offer the invocation according to the dictates of their own conscience,” but prayers should not proselytize or disparage another faith.
Upon the unanimous vote to approve the policy, Commission Chairman Dave Plyler said, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow! Motion carries.”
Dr. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, is encouraged by the Supreme Court’s decision that paved the way for the restoration of religious liberties in Forsyth.
“In the favorable ruling for the town of Greece, NY, the Supreme Court stated that ‘Our tradition assumes that adult citizens, firm in their own beliefs, can tolerate and perhaps appreciate a ceremonial prayer delivered by a person of a different faith.’ It is encouraging that the court not only reinforced our nation’s prized ‘First Liberty,’ our freedom of religion, but also took a common sense approach to the concept of ‘tolerance.’ The believer in Jesus Christ should have the right to speak His name in any setting, private or public, without censure,” said Dr. Creech.