By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
WINSTON-SALEM — Disappointing and alarming — those are the words Christian leaders are using to describe the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear Forsyth County’s appeal of a case regarding prayer prior to public meetings.
The Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said the court’s decision to let stand a 2-1 ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will lead not only to the “repression of religion and its positive influences on our culture,” but also to the “ascent of atheistic dogmas that threaten to reduce us to a fraction of what we were.”
The 4th Circuit had ruled in July 2011 that even though the County Commission invited any and all faith groups to sign up to offer an invocation prior to its meetings, giving them free rein to pray as they saw fit, its policy was unconstitutional because the majority of those who responded were Christians and prayed in Jesus’ name.
Judge Paul Niemeyer, in his dissenting opinion, lamented that in the ruling the court “dared to step in and regulate the language of prayer — the sacred dialogue between humankind and God.” Standing firm in its position, the Forsyth County Commission voted 6-1 the following month to appeal to the Supreme Court, hoping the case would be overturned and that the results would clear up discrepancies among various lower court rulings involving legislative prayer.
But ironically, on the heels of Religious Freedom Day, the nation’s High Court announced Tuesday that it would not consider the case.
“The Supreme Court missed an opportunity to clarify a point of law that the lower courts have disagreed about,” explained Dr. Creech. “In fact, the way the lower courts haver ruled on this issue in various other cases across the country is nothing short of schizophrenic.”
Specifically, Forsyth County had asked the Supreme Court two questions: Whether the Establishment Clause compels the government to parse the content of legislative prayers to eliminate “sectarian” references, and whether the “frequent” presentation of legislative prayers that include a “sectarian” reference violates the Establishment Clause.
Alliance Defense Fund attorney David Cortman, who helped argue Forsyth County’s case, told the media that “America’s founders never shied away from referencing the God to whom they were praying when offering public invocations.” He said Forsyth County residents should have the same privilege.
The Rev. Steve Corts, chairman of the N.C. Partnership for Religious Liberty, which raised some $300,000 to cover legal costs that the county will incur as a result of the ruling, said the Supreme Court’s decision will create “a chilling effect on religious speech in America.”
Already, Winston-Salem officials have dropped their prayer policy and plan to open meetings with a moment of silence instead. Many other cities and counties are expected to follow suit when they receive threatening letters from the American Civil Liberties Union in light of the ruling.
“This ruling will lead to fear and intimidation of the clergy — essentially quieting most — or deceiving them into various forms of the delusion that their faith has no place in the public square,” said Dr. Creech. “It will lead to a craven silence by our churches and clergy concerning the great issues of our time.”
The Christian Action League applauded the Forsyth County Commissioners for taking the prayer issue to the highest court in the land, no matter the cost. And Rev. Corts said he had no regrets that the NCPRL got involved, despite the outcome of the case.
“I can put my head on my pillow and say I did my best,” he told the Winston-Salem Journal.
The Rev. Creech agreed with ADF attorneys that the Supreme Court will eventually have to hear a case on legislative prayer to resolve the conflict between rulings in the 4th and 11th Circuits.