ACLU vs. Rowan County Commissioners
County Leaders steadfast in support of religious liberty
By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
March 19, 2013
SALISBURY — Rowan County Commissioners who have made it a practice to seek God’s wisdom through prayer before conducting the county’s business are being sued in federal court by the American Civil Liberties Union and three Rowan residents who say the pre-meeting invocations make them feel “unwelcome.”
The Christian Action League announced its support of the Commission’s position Monday, urging elected officials to keep praying in Jesus’ name and exercising their God-given freedoms of speech and religion acknowledged in the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights.
“These county leaders have been steadfast in their position for the past year as they faced ACLU threats, at least one vowing he would go to jail before he would stop praying in the name of his Savior,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the CAL. “That’s the kind of backbone it will take to weather attacks of this nature. Unlike some government bodies that have eliminated opening prayers from their meetings, we hope Rowan County Commissioners will not capitulate.”
According to the ACLU, which filed its complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, more than 97 percent of Rowan County board meetings since 2007 have been opened with prayers specific to Christianity. The suit alleges that the invocations, offered by the board members, routinely refer to “sectarian” beliefs such as salvation through Christ alone, the virgin birth, the cross of Calvary and the resurrection. In announcing its suit, the ACLU cited the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling against Forsyth County Commissioners in 2011 in a similar case.
“Certainly, the unfortunate and erroneous ruling by that Court set a poor precedent, but other Circuit courts have ruled differently and more in line with the Constitutional protections for freedom of religion, freedom for individuals to pray as their conscience dictates,” said Dr. Creech. “That’s why it’s so important we stand with folks like those on the Rowan Board and against all attempts to boot religion from the public square.”
Dr. Creech said, ironically, he agreed wholeheartedly with a number of statements issued by the ACLU.
“All citizens of Rowan County deserve to be treated equally by their government, regardless of their personal religious beliefs,” Chris Brook, ACLU-NCLF Legal Director, said in a press release.
“Matters of faith are deeply personal,” added Heather Weaver, staff attorney for the ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.
Dr. Creech said the fact that faith is “deeply personal” is exactly why the government cannot legally parse anyone’s prayers or question to whom he is praying. Further, he said he knows of no evidence or claim that the Rowan County Government has treated anyone unfairly based on his or her beliefs.
“As for the so-called ‘sectarian’ references that the ACLU finds so intolerable, these are the touchstones of the faith that these men happen to practice,” he said. “If they were Muslim, we would expect references to Allah or the Five Pillars; or if they were Hindus, perhaps the chanting of a mantra. Would all this be objectionable as well?”
“Ultimately, to take away the very words that a person uses to pray to his deity is taking away his right to practice his religion,” he added. “To tell someone how they cannot pray is the same as telling how they must pray, which is nothing less than a government imposed prayer.”
As for ACLU claims that the prayers violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment as well as the 14th Amendment, he said it is unimaginable that our nation’s founders would have made a law against opening meetings with sectarian prayer when records show the First Continental Congress opened, not only with multiple prayers, but also with the reading of Scripture and an invocation that ended in Jesus’ name.
“Lawsuits filed in the name of liberty that would push religion from America’s public square have little to do with liberty at all,” he said.
The ACLU is seeking an injunction that would stop the prayers immediately and is seeking damages of $1 in addition to court costs and legal fees.