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Rowan County seeks Supreme Court review of prayer ban

Rowan County on Thursday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review an appeals court ruling that prohibits county commissioners from opening their meetings with prayer.

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a 10-5 decision in July that commissioners couldn’t continue their longtime prayer ritual.

The practice had been challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of three county residents in 2013. Since then, the case has been followed by religious groups and elected officials across the nation.

Invoking the First Amendment, which prohibits governments from establishing a religion, the appeals court ruled that Rowan had “elevated one religion above all others and aligned itself with that faith.”

Nearly all the prayers offered by commissioners between 2007 and 2013 were Christian, the court’s majority found. Members of the public with business before the board often felt pressured to join in, it said.

Meetings now open with prayers led by a visiting minister, who faces the commissioners and does not solicit the audience to join in. But commissioners voted in September to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

Religious-liberty law firms that filed the motion for review of the appeals court decision contend that other appeals court rulings have disagreed on the issue, leaving a definitive decision up to the Supreme Court.

Rowan County is represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, the National Center for Life and Liberty and First Liberty Institute.

“Opening government meetings with prayer is a centuries-old tradition that goes back to before the founding of our nation and continues to this day before Congress, statehouses, and thousands of local governments across the country,” First Liberty senior counsel Ken Klukowski said in a statement.

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