A federal court judge issued a preliminary injunction Wednesday ordering the Rowan County commissioners to cease opening government meetings with a prayer.
"Opening government meetings with prayers that are specific to only one religion not only alienates people of different beliefs, but also clearly violates the Constitution's protection of religious liberty," said legal director of ACLU of North Carolina Chris Brook.
The ruling was issued in U.S. Middle District Court in Greensboro by Judge James Beaty, who denied a request to delay hearing the case while similar cases were held in higher courts.
The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit on behalf of three Rowan County residents — Nancy Lund, Liesa Montag-Siegel and Robert Voelker — who complained that the board recognized only one religion. The lawsuit stated that the board violated the First Amendment by routinely praying to God.
"We are very pleased that the court reaffirmed one of the most basic principles of religious liberty,” Brook said. “That all members of the community should be treated and welcomed equally by their government, regardless of their personal religious beliefs.”
Rowan Commission Chairman Jim Sides made no comment and added that other commissioners were waiting to discuss the matter with their attorneys.