By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
June 17, 2014
Just over a month after the Supreme Court ruled that prayers before government meetings are constitutional, Forsyth County is asking that a lower court’s 2010 ruling be reversed so that it can once again allow uncensored invocations.
“In America, we don’t silence people or try to separate what they pray from what they believe,” said Brett Harvey, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom. “The Supreme Court upheld that principle in its recent decision affirming the freedom of Americans to pray according to their consciences before public meetings. For that reason, we are asking the district court to lift its order against Forsyth County’s prayer policy, which is clearly constitutional.”
ADF had defended Forsyth in the case that began in 2007 when the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State sued on behalf of three people who said they were offended by references to Jesus Christ or any other sectarian deity. The District Court ruled for the plaintiffs and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling, leaving Forsyth under an injunction requiring only non-sectarian prayers.
But in the very similar case of Town of Greece, N.Y. v. Galloway, also involving ADF, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the idea that legislative prayer “may be addressed only to a generic God,” and warned that censoring the way people pray is truly what is unconstitutional.
“Opening public meetings with prayer is a cherished freedom that the authors of the Constitution themselves practiced,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman. “As the Supreme Court ruled just last month, ‘legislative prayer has become part of our heritage and tradition,’ and a prayer given in the name of a particular deity ‘does not remove it from that tradition.’”
ADF points out in its brief filed June 13 that unless the court lifts its order “the only way Forsyth County can comply with the injunction is to abandon what the Constitution permits or to do what the Constitution forbids.”
In the wake of the Greece, N.Y., ruling, Commissioners of Forsyth County voted unanimously last month to request an end to the injunction that had forced them, for the last four years, to resort to moments of silence or nonsectarian prayers in advance of their meetings. Prior to the court challenge, Forsyth’s policy was very similar to the one in Greece, inviting leaders from any and all local faiths to take part in the invocations and to pray as they saw fit.
“This latest filing should not only result in a quick reversal so that Forsyth can resume its open and fair policy regarding prayer but should also remind other boards that an invocation before a meeting is perfectly legal, whereas parsing a prayer to remove references to a specific deity or other potentially offensive language is, in fact, a violation of free speech,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “We applaud ADF’s work in this arena and pray that God will continue to use the organization’s efforts to uphold freedom of religion in America.”
ADF offers a detailed analysis of the effects of the Supreme Court’s May ruling for the Town of Greece as well as a model prayer policy and other legal advice for government bodies looking to maintain or reinstate pre-meeting prayer.
For details, see https://www.alliancedefendingfreedom.org/page/free-to-pray/.