WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — After winning a lawsuit last month at the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of prayers before public meetings, Alliance Defending Freedom is now asking a federal district court to lift its order against the prayer policy of Forsyth County, N.C. The order requires the county to censor the way people pray to ensure only generic prayers are offered at public meetings.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit upheld the district court’s order in 2011. Although the Supreme Court declined to review the case, the high court upheld a similar policy from the town of Greece, N.Y., on May 5 and affirmed that Americans are free to pray according to their own beliefs at public meetings. ADF says that clears the way for uncensored prayers to resume in Forsyth County.
“In America, we don’t silence people or try to separate what they pray from what they believe,” said ADF Senior Counsel Brett Harvey. “The Supreme Court upheld that principle in its recent decision affirming the freedom of Americans to pray according to their consciences before public meetings. For that reason, we are asking the district court to lift its order against Forsyth County’s prayer policy, which is clearly constitutional.”
“Opening public meetings with prayer is a cherished freedom that the authors of the Constitution themselves practiced,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman. “As the Supreme Court ruled just last month, ‘legislative prayer has become part of our heritage and tradition,’ and a prayer given in the name of a particular deity ‘does not remove it from that tradition.’”
In March 2007, the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State sued the Forsyth County Commission on behalf of three individuals because they claimed to be offended by simply hearing the invited speakers deliver prayers that included a reference to Jesus Christ or any other named deity. They demanded the county discourage or prohibit invited speakers “from including references to Jesus Christ, or any other sectarian deity, as part of their prayers.”
In its opinion in Town of Greece v. Galloway issued last month, the Supreme Court rejected the argument “that legislative prayer may be addressed only to a generic God” and warned that attempts to limit the way people pray are themselves unconstitutional.
“Our tradition assumes that adult citizens, firm in their own beliefs, can tolerate and perhaps appreciate a ceremonial prayer delivered by a person of a different faith,” the court wrote.
As the motion ADF attorneys filed in Joyner v. Forsyth County explains, the court should lift its order because “the only way Forsyth County can comply with the injunction is to abandon what the Constitution permits or to do what the Constitution forbids.”
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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