More than a decade ago, groups like the ACLU, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and various atheist organizations began attacking the use of Christian prayers to open legislative meetings—something that has been an important tradition in America since the 1600s. Many legislative bodies buckled under when attacked by these anti-Christian legal groups and established policies that allowed only generic prayers mentioning God, while banning prayers offered in Jesus’ name. Other legislative bodies across the nation, however, stood firm for their Christian faith and fought these battles in court, with varying degrees of success.
For over a decade now, attorneys for the National Center for Life and Liberty have been defending many of those legislative bodies that have stood firm on their practices of including Christian legislative prayers. Cases were filed in courts from California to New York and Florida, with some judges ruling that the prayers were constitutional, while other courts banned them as an unconstitutional violation of the “separation of church and state” when the name of Jesus was mentioned. Finally, in 2014, the United States Supreme Court weighed in on this matter and ruled in the case of Town of Greece vs. Galloway that the “separation of church and state” does not render Christian legislative prayers unconstitutional, as long as the legislative bodies have a neutral prayer policy that allows everyone to pray according to their own religious beliefs. Attorneys for the NCLL have for years been assisting various bodies from town councils to state legislatures to draft such neutral policies that allow Christians to pray these opening prayers in Jesus’ name.
One legislative body in Rowan County, North Carolina, who was sued by the ACLU for its practice of allowing its county commissioners to offer Christian prayers, is standing firm on its choice to do so. And the NCLL has stood beside it now as this issue has gone back and forth in the courts. We rejoiced in 2014 when the Supreme Court ruled that Christian prayers, like the ones offered by these commissioners, are constitutional.
We thought the case was successfully over. We were wrong.
The ACLU and the atheists who originally challenged the prayers are attempting to find a loophole in the 2014 Supreme Court’s prayer decision. They have continued their case against Rowan County, arguing that while the Supreme Court may have said that opening legislative prayers could mention Jesus’ name, they were still offended when those Christian prayers were offered by the commissioners themselves, as opposed to a minister from the community. So this court case continues. A district court judge agreed with the ACLU earlier this year that the Rowan County commissioners themselves could not offer the opening prayers for their meetings, even though traditionally each commissioner has been free to pray according to personal religious beliefs when it is his or her turn in the prayer rotation cycle.
So we are now appealing the district court judge’s ruling. Our initial briefs on behalf of Rowan County have now been filed in Richmond, Virginia, with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (the case name is Lund vs. Rowan County, NC). Read the brief here. Some very influential parties are also weighing in with amicus briefs to the court in favor of the prayers by the legislators—including senators and congress members from the fourth circuit states and several state attorneys general. Both of these briefs are available here:
Please pray that the appeals court will overturn the lower court judge and follow the Supreme Court’s precedent in favor of the Rowan County commissioners. These legislators do not believe that they should be legally required to give up their free speech rights or their right to pray according to their own religious beliefs merely because they are elected to a political office. This is an important case that will affect many other legislative bodies across America.