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Date set for latest oral arguments in county’s prayer lawsuit

By Josh Bergeron

josh.bergeron@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday set March 22 as the date for oral arguments in Rowan County’s prayer lawsuit.

The oral arguments will be made before all 15 judges for the 4th Circuit — a process known as an en banc review. When lawyers in the prayer case last appeared in front of the 4th Circuit court, Rowan County prevailed in a 2-1 decision.

On Oct. 31, the judges agreed to an en banc review for the prayer lawsuit, known as Lund v. Rowan County.

At the heart of the case are questions about whether Rowan County commissioners can offer sectarian prayers at the start of meetings. The judges examine prayer practices from 2007 to 2013.

Questions raised over the course of the suit include whether commissioners’ prayer practices disparaged or coerced attendees to participate, whom the prayers were intended for, whether there is a historical precedent for what occurs at commissioners meetings and if elected officials can deliver invocations that are overwhelmingly Christian in nature.

County commissioners are represented in court at no cost by Texas-based National Center for Life and Liberty, which has brought in attorneys to help. The American Civil Liberties Union initially filed the lawsuit against the county commissioners on behalf of three Rowan County residents.

The first ruling, in federal district court, found that Rowan County’s prayer practices were unconstitutional. That ruling was overturned in the 2-1 decision by the 4th Circuit court.

As the lawsuit has worked its way through the courts, county commissioners have put prior prayer practices on pause. Instead, a volunteer chaplain offers opening invocations. Commissioners Chairman Greg Edds has offered a sort of disclaimer before the start of prayers to notify people in the room that the prayers are for the benefit of members of the county’s governing board.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

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