Supreme Court Refuses Forsyth Prayer Case
Special Report - January 18, 2012
The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to clarify a nationwide standard regarding prayer at public government meetings by declining to hear an appeal of a case involving the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners’ public invocation policy that allows prayers to specific deities. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in July 2011 upheld a district court decision that Forsyth County’s prayer policy is unconstitutional. That ruling conflicts with previous rulings by the Eighth and Eleventh Circuit Courts. The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), which represented Forsyth County at no cost, filed a petition in October 2011 asking the Supreme Court to review the Fourth Circuit’s decision in light of existing decisions by the Eighth and Eleventh Circuit Courts in an effort to establish a consistent nationwide standard for determining the constitutionality of public prayer policies. The Supreme Court declined to consider an appeal in the case on January 17.
The case, Joyner v. Forsyth County, was brought in 2007 by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State on behalf of three Winston-Salem residents, who claim that the prayer policy violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. In its petition to the Supreme Court, ADF argued that the Fourth Circuit’s “decision distorts this Court’s precedent, imposes an unwieldy requirement that government police the language of prayers, and conflicts with the Eighth and Eleventh Circuits’ decisions holding that substantively identical policies do not violate the Constitution simply because invocations may include ‘sectarian’ references. Since 2008, federal courts in four other circuits have ruled on the question presented here. The Fourth Circuit conflicts with each one by demanding government regulation of indeterminately-defined ‘sectarian’ references in legislative prayer.” The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the case finalizes the Fourth Circuit’s direction that Forsyth County change its policy to prevent any invocation in the name of a specific deity.
“No federal court has ruled that prayers cannot be offered before public meetings. The Supreme Court has simply missed an opportunity to clear up the differing opinions among the various circuits about the content of the prayers,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman in a press release. “This means that, for the time being, the standard for prayer policies in the 4th Circuit will be different from the standard held by the rest of the country. ADF will continue to litigate in favor of the historical standard until the Supreme Court eventually hears a case that will clear up the confusion.”
Review Requested for N.C. Prayer Case - October 31, 2011
Prayer Decision Will Be Appealed - August 10, 2011
Court Says No Prayer in Jesus' Name - August 2, 2011
Forsyth Prayer Policy Gets Hearing - May 11, 2011
NCFPC Supports Prayer Policy - June 14, 2010
Forsyth Commissioners Vote to Appeal - February 23, 2010
Jesus' Name Takes Hit In Ruling - February 1, 2010
Appeals Court Upholds Sectarian Prayers at Public Meetings - October 31, 2008
Prayer Lawsuit Filed Against Forsyth County - April 4, 2007
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