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County faces ‘unconstitutional’ prayer lawsuit

Published 7:46am Wednesday, April 3, 2013

By Stephanie Carroll Carson

NC News Service

SALISBURY – Rowan County is facing a lawsuit as a result of county commissioners’ decision to include a prayer at their public meetings that the plaintiffs say is unconstitutional.

The ACLU and some county residents filed the suit, claiming that county leadership ignored a reminder that the decision to hold prayer specific to one religion violates the U.S. Constitution.

“I really support freedom of religion, but the issue is when it’s government officials opening a public meeting,” said Nancy Lund, one of the plaintiffs. “It’s very uncomfortable. It feels like I’m very unwelcome.”

The suit alleges that some prayers conducted at Rowan County meetings include declarations that “there is only one way to salvation.”

Chris Brook, ACLU legal director, said the prayer issue goes beyond making some citizens uneasy.

“It’s not just a matter of being made to feel uncomfortable,” he said. “It’s also a matter of the government excluding members of the community.”

Lund said she has attended county commission meetings since 2004.

A 2011 ruling by the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals against Forsyth County found that local boards may not open their meetings with a prayer that is specific to one religion. After the ruling that Forsyth County could no longer hold religion-specific prayer, more than 20 local governments in North Carolina changed their opening invocations to comply with the law. Rowan County did not.

One Rowan County commissioner has said the county and the ACLU have “different interpretations of the First Amendment.”

The lawsuit, Lund et al v. RowanCounty, was filed March 12 and is online at acluofnc.org.

In the Roanoke-Chowan area, each of the four boards of county commissioners open their meetings with prayer.

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