Prayer again opens county board meeting

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 5, 2012

On the day the American Civil Liberties Union asked Rowan County commissioners to respond to a request that they stop opening public meetings with prayers in Jesus’ name, commissioners opened their regular meeting with a prayer — in Jesus’ name.
And as Commissioner Jon Barber gave the invocation in the commissioners’ chambers on the second floor of the County Administration Building, a scene similar to the one at the last county meeting — just after the ACLU issued its request — played out: Christian prayer supporters packed the meeting room to express their opinions and the downstairs lobby where they sang hymns.
But today’s meeting also drew more speakers who oppose continuing sectarian prayer. Only one spoke at the last meeting.
In 2011, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ended a five-year legal battle in Forsyth County, ruling that county commissioners’ practice of opening prayer there was unconstitutional because the prayers had been overwhelmingly Christian.
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal to that decision, letting stand the lower court’s ruling.
That prompted the ACLU to send letters to about 25 government bodies across North Carolina calling on them to stop opening their meetings with religion-specific prayers and adopt non-sectarian prayer policies.
Those letters were sent to governments against whom the civil liberties group had gotten prayer-related complaints, Katy Parker, an attorney for the ACLU in North Carolina, told the Post. She said Rowan commissioners had generated the most complaints.
Parker told the Post that the Rowan County Board of Commissioners was the only government body to ignore the request.
Four out of five Rowan County commissioners — all but Raymond Coltrain — have said they plan to continue praying the way they always have and believe the Rowan case is different than Forsyth’s because individual commissioners pray, not local clergy.