Local clergy in Forsyth County, North Carolina are once again free to pray “in Jesus name” when offering invocations before county commission meetings. On Monday night, the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a revised public prayer policy that allows “religious leaders” to offer the invocation “according to the dictates of their own conscience.” The vote marks the end of a legal battle that started with a lawsuit in 2007 and resulted in a federal district court injunction that prohibited sectarian prayer at Forsyth County Commission meetings for four years.
“We commend the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners for voting to restore the freedom of local religious leaders to offer voluntary, uncensored prayers before commission meetings,” said John L. Rustin, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council. “Public prayer before government meetings is a long-standing American tradition protected by the First Amendment that deserves to be defended and celebrated.”
In November 2014, federal district court Judge James A. Beaty, Jr., lifted the injunction against the county’s long-standing invocation policy in response to a motion filed by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on behalf of Forsyth County. The ADF motion argued that the U.S. Supreme Court’s May 2014 decision upholding the constitutionality of a similar prayer policy in the Town of Greece, New York, “cleared the way for uncensored prayers to resume in Forsyth County.”
According to the revised invocation policy adopted by the Board on March 9, the clerk to the Forsyth County Board will publish a public notice “at least annually” in newspapers and on the County website inviting “all churches, religious congregations, and organized assemblies that periodically meet within the County for the purpose of worshipping or discussing their religious perspectives to identify a speaker to deliver invocations before regularly scheduled meetings…”
While the policy allows speakers to offer sectarian prayers, the public notice also includes a request from the Board that “the prayer opportunity not be exploited as an effort to convert others to the particular faith of the invocational speaker, threaten damnation, nor…disparage any faith or belief different from that of the invocational speaker.” However, the policy states that the Board will not review the content of individual prayers.