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Forsyth County Prayer Battle Continues

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The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina is continuing its efforts to suppress public prayer in localities across the Tar Heel State, despite a landmark ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year that upheld the American tradition of uncensored prayer before public meetings. In a brief filed August 12 with a federal district court in Greensboro, the ACLU-NC urged the judge to reject a request by Forsyth County to lift a 2010 injunction that prohibits the county from opening public meetings with prayers to a specific deity, such as “in Jesus name.”

The ACLU-NC filed the brief in response to a motion filed in June by attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on behalf of Forsyth County, asking the federal district court to lift the prayer injunction. That motion argued that the U.S. Supreme Court’s May 2014 decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway, in which the high court upheld the constitutionality of the town’s policy of opening public meetings with uncensored prayers offered by various clergy from the community, “clears the way for uncensored prayers to resume in Forsyth County.”

According to the Winston-Salem Journal, the ACLU motion opposing Forsyth County’s request “argues that Forsyth County’s prayer policy discriminates against faiths that do not have clergy or formal leadership structures, less established religious denominations and nonbelievers.” Chris Brooks, legal director of the ACLU-NC, told the Winston-Salem Journal that, “The general point is that Forsyth County should welcome its entire community through its prayer policy, and the policy that the county currently has in place favors some religious denominations over others, as well as believers over nonbelievers.”

However, Forsyth County argues that its prayer policy, which allows clergy from the community to offer uncensored prayers prior to public meetings, is very similar to the Town of Greece’s policy that was upheld by the Supreme Court. ADF attorney Brett Harvey told the Winston-Salem Journal that ADF plans to file a reply to the ACLU-NC brief within the next few weeks. “The Supreme Court has now made clear that it’s not the government’s job to censor the way people pray,” Harvey said, “so an injunction that mandates generic prayers needs to be changed, and we think it needs to be lifted altogether.”

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