Winston-Salem, NC-- The fight to keep prayers that mention a specific deity in public meetings got another challenge. Wednesday, the Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed an appeal of a district court decision that prevents the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners from opening public meetings with prayer that may mention a particular deity. ADF represents the board in a lawsuit filed in 2007 by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State--a lawsuit that an overwhelming number of county residents have expressed they wish the county to fight.
"America's founders opened public meetings with uncensored prayer. Public officials should be able to do the same," said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Mike Johnson. "Through their campaign of fear, intimidation, and disinformation, the ACLU and its allies continue their threats against hometown governments that they consider to be easy prey. Once again, though, they have failed."
Barbara Weller, David Gibbs, and local counsel Bryce D. Neier-three of more than 1,600 attorneys in the ADF alliance-are assisting with the case, Joyner v. Forsyth County.
On March 30, 2007, attorneys with the ACLU and AU filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. The three named individual plaintiffs are suing because the board "does not have a policy which discourages or prohibits those whom [the board] has invited to deliver prayers from including references to Jesus Christ, or any other sectarian deity, as part of their prayers."
In January, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina issued an order agreeing with a federal magistrate's recommendation to rule against Forsyth County, despite arguments made against the recommendation filed by ADF attorneys and its allies. After a public meeting Monday that attracted nearly 1,000 county residents in support of continuing the case, the board of commissioners voted in favor of filing the appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.
"An invocation according to the dictates of the giver's conscience is not an establishment of religion," said Johnson. "If it was, you'd have to argue that the drafters of the U.S. Constitution were violating the Constitution in the prayers and invocations that they themselves offered."
In 2007, ADF launched a nationwide effort to advise public bodies of their constitutional right to open meetings with an invocation, mailing thousands of informational letters to local governments. Since then, ADF attorneys have received a large volume of requests for legal assistance from state legislatures and many county and city governments.
Monday night, February 22, Forsyth County Commissioners voted 4-3 to fight the judges ruling against prayer using specific mentions of a deity.
ADF/WFMY News 2