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Prayer Before Public Meetings

Throughout our country’s history, public meetings have opened in prayer. The county commission meetings of Rowan County, North Carolina are no different. Just like America’s very first Congress—as well as the current Congress and every Congress in between—Rowan County opens its sessions with legislative prayers.

“Opening government meetings with prayer is a centuries-old tradition that goes back to before the founding of our nation and continues to this day before Congress, statehouses, and thousands of local governments across the country,” said Ken Klukowski, Senior Counsel and Director of Strategic Affairs for First Liberty.

The Supreme Court has previously approved of the long-standing tradition of “legislative prayer” and its role in solemnizing policymaking sessions, encouraging lawmakers to selflessly seek the greater good, and acknowledging the role that faith plays in the lives of millions of Americans. In both Marsh v. Chambers (1983) and Town of Greece v. Galloway (2014), the Supreme Court held that prayers offered by private citizens before government meetings are fully consistent with the Constitution and an important part of America’s history and heritage.

Whether elected officials may also provide legislative prayers is the question First Liberty has now placed before the Supreme Court in Rowan County v. Lund.

ACLU Sues Rowan County

In March 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued Rowan County alleging that because all commissioners self-identified as Christians, their traditional method of opening sessions with legislative invocations excluded all other religions and must therefore be stopped.

First Liberty stepped in to represent the Rowan County commissioners after a U.S. district court ruled against the county in 2015. On September 19, 2016, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit determined that Rowan County’s practice of legislative prayer was consistent with the Supreme Court’s prior decisions concerning legislative prayer.

However, the Fourth Circuit, sitting en banc, overruled its three-judge panel, concluding in a divided 10-5 decision, that prayers offered by elected officials prior to public meetings violate the U.S. Constitution.

A Question for the Supreme Court

Soon after the Fourth Circuit handed down its decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued a decision about a similar practice of legislative prayer in Jackson County, Michigan. In that case, the Sixth Circuit, sitting en banc, concluded Jackson County’s practice is consistent with the Constitution. The differing decisions written by the Fourth and Sixth Circuits—often called a “circuit split”—leaves many wondering what the law actually is when it comes to legislative prayer.

“The ‘circuit split’ on this issue is creating confusion among government officials across the United States,” said Klukowski. “That confusion can only be resolved by a clear and definitive decision by the Supreme Court.”

Press Release
For Immediate Release: October 12, 2017

Contact: Lacey McNiel, media@firstliberty.org

Direct: 972-941-4453

 

First Liberty Asks U.S. Supreme Court to Review Decision on Legislative Prayers

First Liberty attorneys say circuit split creates imminent need for Supreme Court review

 


WASHINGTON— First Liberty Institute on Thursday asked the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Rowan County, North Carolina to review the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Rowan County v. Lund prohibiting Rowan County’s commissioners from opening their meetings with prayer. The federal courts of appeal are split over whether prayers offered by legislators at local government meetings are unconstitutional.

“Opening government meetings with prayer is a centuries-old tradition that goes back to before the founding of our nation and continues to this day before Congress, statehouses, and thousands of local governments across the country,” said Ken Klukowski, Senior Counsel and Director of Strategic Affairs for First Liberty. “The ‘circuit split’ on this issue is creating confusion among government officials across the United States that can only be resolved by a clear and definitive decision by the Supreme Court.”

The Supreme Court has previously approved of the long-standing tradition of “legislative prayer” and its role in solemnizing policymaking sessions, encouraging lawmakers to selflessly seek the greater good, and acknowledging the role that faith plays in the lives of millions of Americans. In both Marsh v. Chambers (1983) and Town of Greece v. Galloway (2014), the Supreme Court held that prayers offered by private citizens before government meetings are fully consistent with the Constitution and an important part of America’s history and heritage. Whether elected officials may also provide legislative prayers is the question now before the Supreme Court in Rowan County v. Lund.

First Liberty also represents Jackson County, Michigan. On September 6, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit sitting en banc voted 9-6 in favor of the Jackson County commissioners’ right to open their meetings with invocations.

To download a copy of the press release click here.

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About First Liberty Institute

First Liberty Institute is a non-profit public interest law firm and the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.

To arrange an interview, contact Lacey McNiel at media@firstliberty.org or by calling 972-941-4453.


Press Release – 07/14/17