Federal judge rules prayer OK before Forsyth County commissioner meetings

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FORSYTH COUNTY, N.C. — A federal judge this morning ruled that Forsyth County commissioners can return to their former policy of allowing sectarian prayer before meetings but also told the commissioners to modify their policy to ensure that it doesn’t discriminate, according to the Winston-Salem Journal. 

The decision by U.S. District Judge James A. Beaty Jr. came after he heard oral arguments for both parties in a Winston-Salem federal courtroom.

The hearing lasted less than an hour.

Forsyth County had asked the court in June to dissolve the 2010 injunction that barred it from practicing its policy of allowing clergy to deliver sectarian prayers before meetings.

The county made the request after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the town of Greece, N.Y., did not violate the U.S. Constitution by allowing ministers to deliver Christian prayers at meetings, because the town had an inclusive policy.

Beaty ruled that the U.S. Supreme Court essentially previous judicial decisions that had ruled that sectarian prayers were prohibited.

Forsyth County had argued that the Supreme Court ruling applied because the county had a similar policy.

Chris Brook of the ACLU for North Carolina, who represented the plaintiffs, argued that Forsyth County’s policy was discriminatory and that the county is only entitled to a modification of the injunction. Attorneys for Forsyth County and the Alliance Defending Freedom, the group assisting Forsyth County, argued this morning that the county’s policy is proactively inclusive and that the injunction should be lifted.

Gloria Whisenhunt, vice chairwoman of the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners, was happy after the ruling.
“It was a long battle but it was worth it,” she said.

Janet Joyner, one of the plaintiffs, said she was glad that the court ordered Forsyth County to make changes in its policy to ensure that it is nondiscriminatory.

“I’m very glad to see that the court has warned the county that the commissioners’ policy should be inclusive and reflective of diversity as the Greece, N.Y., policy is, which (Forsyth County’s policy) is not,” she said.

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