WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — A North Carolina county is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn an appeals court’s ruling that prayers offered in Jesus’ name at meetings of the county’s board of commissioners are a constitutionally impermissible endorsement of religion.
Attorneys representing Forsyth County, which includes the city of Winston-Salem, filed the petition Oct. 27, reported the Winston-Salem Journal.
Both a North Carolina federal district court and the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., ruled against the county’s prayer policy, which was challenged by citizens in 2007. The appeals court ruled 2-1 against the county on July 29; a little more than a week later county commissioners voted 6-1 to appeal to the Supreme Court.
The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty had filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Court of Appeals, asking it to uphold the lower court’s ruling that the prayers violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
The BJC’s brief noted that the high court has found legislative prayers to be constitutional only if they are non-sectarian and do not favor one religion over another.
According to the brief, of the 33 prayers recorded between May 29, 2007, and Dec. 15, 2008, at Forsyth board of commissioners’ meetings, all but seven contained at least one reference to Jesus Christ and none invoked a deity associated with a faith other than Christianity.
Robert Dilday is managing editor of the Religious Herald.