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Home arrow Blog arrow BJC Urges 4th Circuit to Again Reject Sectarian Government Prayer [UPDATED]
BJC Urges 4th Circuit to Again Reject Sectarian Government Prayer [UPDATED] E-mail
Written by Don Byrd   
Friday, 09 July 2010

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed earlier this week, the Baptist Joint Committee argued to the 4th Circuit that its own precedent, as well as that of the U.S. Supreme Court, clearly require the conclusion that the practice of opening prayers in use by North Carolina's Forsyth County Board of Commissioners is unconstitutional. While nonsectarian prayer has been permitted by the Court in the context of legislative meetings, the brief notes, the invocations in question here are overwhelmingly sectarian and thoroughly Christian.

[T]he legislative prayers in this case have the actual effect of affiliating the Forsyth County Board with the Christian faith and have resulted in the Board advancing Christianity above other belief systems. This marriage of a local government and the Christian faith is directly contrary to the fundamental principle of the Establishment Clause, the “belief that a union of government and religion tends to destroy government and to degrade religion.” This Court should not permit such a union to stand.

And despite the 11th Circuit ruling in Pelphrey which suggests otherwise, even a policy of rotating or diverse speakers does not salvage the practice, the BJC contends:

The fact that the body may endorse a different sect each time it meets is irrelevant under the Establishment Clause. For the citizen who attends a single town council meeting, the diverse selection process approved in Pelphrey offers little comfort. That citizen is exposed to a single sectarian prayer, which may or may not invoke a deity in which she believes, and because the prayer is given as part of the council meeting, she receives the message that the council endorses that prayer and that deity. If she has never attended another council meeting, she may reasonably believe that the town council promotes this particular religion exclusively. She might also think that the price of doing business before the town council is participation in that prayer, or worse, adherence to the particular faith advanced in that prayer.

The Winston-Salem Journal interviewed the BJC's K. Hollyn Hollman and offers this report on the filing.

[UPDATE: In a somewhat related story, a pastor from Forsyth County is angry that the state legislature would not allow him to offer a sectarian prayer when he was named honorary chaplain. The State House is reviewing their policies and procedures in response.]

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