Pierce: Chaplain will not violate injunction

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 27, 2013

SALISBURY — Rowan County Commissioners Vice Chairman Craig Pierce said a resolution giving county leaders the option to let a local chaplain pray before meetings will not violate a recent court’s injunction.
“I never implied that having the chaplain there was to continue praying a Christian prayer only,” Pierce said. “We put that resolution out there so that in case the judge would say that the commissioners can no longer pray that we have someone to do the prayer for us.”
In April, commissioners approved the resolution that gives county leaders the authority to appoint a chaplain in the case that a preliminary injunction was granted by a federal judge in a lawsuit filed by three Rowan residents. The plaintiffs allege the Christian invocations are unconstitutional.
The injunction was granted earlier this week.
The Rev. Michael Taylor, a volunteer chaplain at the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, is expected to provide future invocations if called upon.
But Pierce said commissioners can also choose to be taken out of the usual prayer rotation or they can deliver their own non-sectarian prayer.
The injunction prohibits county leaders from delivering prayers that favor one set of beliefs over another.
In a memorandum filed Tuesday, Judge James A Beaty halted the commission’s longtime tradition as the litigation proceeds.
“Therefore, based on the foregoing, the court will grant plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction and will enjoin defendant from knowingly and/or intentionally delivering or allowing to by delivered sectarian prayers at meetings of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners during the pendency of this suit,” Beaty wrote.
Chris Brook, Legal Director for the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, said a chaplain would have to deliver a non-sectarian prayer to avoid violating Beaty’s ruling.
“The county policy adopted regarding prayer, the board prayer policy adopted, is a step in the right direction but it needs to be delivered consistent with the court’s order,” Brook said.