Commissioners prep for prayer rally, board meeting

  • Posted: Sunday, March 17, 2013 12:55 a.m.

Prayer lawsuit will be discussed

By Nathan Hardin

SALISBURY — Rowan County Manager Gary Page said he doesn’t have an estimate on the number of planned attendees for Monday’s meeting.

But if last year’s meeting — and the number of supporters who have called — are indicative, the turnout could be sizable.

“We’ve been inundated with emails and phone calls with people who said they’re intending to come,” Page said. “We’re expecting it to be a lot of people.”

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Rowan County commissioners last week, accusing county leaders of violating three Rowan residents’ rights by beginning meetings with predominantly sectarian prayers.

The five commissioners said they disagree with the ACLU’s description of the prayer as “unconstitutional” and have vowed to continue praying.

Vice Chairman Craig Pierce told the Post the prayer is afforded First Amendment protection, regardless of where he prays.

But the ACLU cited a federal appeals court decision from 2011 that said Forsyth County commissioners could not begin meetings with a Christian invocation.

Page said commissioners have prepared a second, smaller room for the spillover crowd. Spectators will be able to watch the meeting from a flat-screen TV.

A second monitor will be placed in the first-floor foyer where dozens turned out, singing hymns and supporting commissioners last March on the heels of the ACLU’s warning letter.

The J. Newton Cohen Sr. Room, where commissioners hold their biweekly meetings, holds about 100 people and will be first come, first serve Monday night, Page said. The spillover room will seat about 25 more.

Page said he’s also had calls from supporters wanting to contribute to the county’s legal defense fund.

“We’ve had people call and say they’d like to contribute. We’ve had people from some of these nonprofit defense groups,” Page said. “As far as receiving an offer, we haven’t got that yet.”

Commissioners will meet at 6 p.m. in the J. Newton Cohen Sr. Room on the second floor of the Rowan County Administration Building at 130 W. Innes St.

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.

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