Prayer suit legal bill comes in higher than expected

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FORSYTH COUNTY, N.C. — Attorneys representing the citizens who sued Forsyth County over sectarian prayer at board meetings are asking $248,000 from the county in legal fees.

That’s about $50,000 more than one of the attorneys estimated in January, when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the county’s appeal from a lower-court ruling against sectarian prayers.

Forsyth County commissioners discussed the fee in closed session Thursday but did not announce a decision.

The county would not be paying the fee with tax dollars, since a citizens group backing the county’s appeal put up $300,000 for the payment of legal fees.

Constance Blackmon and Janet Joyner sued Forsyth County in federal court in 2007 with the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The lawsuit maintained that by allowing prayers that made Christian references, the county was showing favoritism to Christianity over other religions.

The county put in place a policy that gave clergy the opportunity to give the prayers on a first-come, first-served basis, but did not tell the clergy what they could or could not say.

The Alliance Defense Fund, a pro-Christian group, defended the county for free as the case made its way to the court of appeals. But the ADF would not pay the fees awarded to the victor in the event the county lost the case, as it did when the court of appeals ruled against the county and the Supreme Court refused to take up the case.

This article was written by Wesley Young and originally published by The Winston-Salem Journal. Click here to read more.

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