WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Sectarian prayer before public meetings could be returning to local city and county boards with limits.
Monday the Supreme Court gave approval to public prayers at Greece, New York’s board meetings, citing the country’s history of religious acknowledgment in the legislature.
Two local women brought suit against the town objecting to invocations that had been overwhelmingly Christian in nature.
In a 5-4 ruling, the high court agreed a prayer before meetings does not violate the Constitution, believing forcing innovations at public meetings to be nonsectarian puts the government and courts in the position of censoring religious speech. The court said prayer should continue as long as it doesn’t try to convert others or be negative toward other faith.
In June of last year, Forsyth County Commissioners threw their support behind the town after they spent years dealing with their own legal fights. The board was first sued in 2007 over invocations being delivered with reference to Jesus Christ.
“What we are going to do, based on the Supreme Court, will be a reaction,” said Forsyth County Commissioner Dave Plyer, who served as chairman of the board during their legal battles and appeal. Plyer believes Monday’s ruling will likely bring prayer back to local commissioners meetings. “My guess is that they’ll jump right back in and do what we had been doing if our attorney looks at the decision as it was written and then makes the decision we can do this without upsetting any part of our community.”
“Today’s ruling is a disappointing setback for the rights of citizens of all beliefs to be treated equally by their government,” said Jennifer Rudinger, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina. “Opening government meetings with prayers from a specific religious viewpoint tells citizens with different beliefs that they are not welcome and sends a message that the government endorses certain religious views over others.”
Threats of lawsuits from groups like the ACLU and Americans for the Separation of Church and State were ignored by the Stokes County school board, who continue to pray while government bodies like the Winston-Salem City Council dropped prayer for a moment of silence.
“For nearly 200 hundred years we were privileged to pray according to a person’s faith and all of a sudden they began to infringe upon our personal religious liberties, religious freedoms,” said Pastor Ron Baity with Return America. Baity has supported keeping prayer, saying it’s what the founding fathers intended. “It’s been a long time coming but we are very thankful that [the Supreme Court] got it right.”