Judge orders Rowan commissioners to stop praying as lawsuit proceeds

  • Posted: Tuesday, July 23, 2013 6:27 p.m.
    UPDATED: Tuesday, July 23, 2013 6:37 p.m.

GREENSBORO — A federal judge has ordered Rowan County commissioners to stop sectarian prayers before meetings while a lawsuit over the practice makes its way through the courts.

In an order filed today, Judge James A. Beatty Jr. granted a motion submitted on behalf of three complainants who said their rights were violated by prayers, most of which are in Jesus’ name.

“Defendant Rowan County, North Carolina is hereby enjoined from knowingly and/or intentionally delivering or allowing to be delivered sectarian prayers at meetings of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners during the pendency of this suit,” says a docket entry for U.S. Middle District Court.

Nancy Lund, Liesa Montag-Siegel and Robert Voelker brought the suit in March, supported by the American Civil Liberties Union in North Carolina.

In his ruling Beatty also denied Rowan County’s motions to dismiss the case and to stay the proceedings while similar cases are heard in higher courts.

In a phone interview minutes after Beaty submitted his decision Tuesday, Montag-Siegel described her reaction as “delighted.”

“We feel that the judge recognized that the law applies to everyone and that what we’re asking for — which is for people to feel equal and for people to not feel left out when they come to meeting — has has been listened to,” she said.

Montag-Seigel said she doesn’t know what kind of bearing the decision will have on the case, but added, “It’s very encouraging.”

Chris Brook, Legal Director for the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, said decisions in the Fourth Circuit on opening meetings with prayer have been “very clear.”

“We’re very pleased that the court reaffirmed one of the most basic principles of religious liberty,” Brook said, “that members of the community should be treated and welcomed equally by their government regardless of their personal religious beliefs.”

The language of Beaty’s decision, Brook said, is “also very clear that elected officials are not going to be permitted to allow others to open their meetings with sectarian prayer” during the litigation.

“We’re hopeful that ultimately the court will permanently enjoin Rowan County from opening their governmental meeting with prayers that favor one set of religious beliefs over another,” he said.

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