After first being told by a court they could pray based on their faith – and then being told they couldn't – commissioners in Rowan County, North Carolina, are considering whether to take their case to the Supreme Court.
The Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a 10-5 decision on Friday declaring prayer at the start of commissioner meetings unconstitutional, overturning a previous ruling by a three-judge panel from the same Richmond, Virginia, court almost a year ago.
Attorney Barbara Weller with the National Center for Life and Liberty argues that the full court's decision was definitely hostile towards religion.
"This is kind of the last piece of the puzzle," she begins. "The Supreme Court has already said it's fine for chaplains to be hired to give the opening legislative prayers; [and that] it's fine for pastors or other religious leaders to be invited to give the prayers. But in Rowan County it was the legislators themselves who gave the prayers according to whatever their religion was."
All of the commissioners at present are Christian. Consequently, the court ruled that allowing them to be the "exclusive prayer-givers" represents establishment of the Christian religion in Rowan County – and therefore, legislators aren't permitted to speak the prayers.
"We, of course, disagree with that," says Weller, "because certainly if a legislator was elected who was Buddhist or Muslim or something else, they would be able to give the prayers that they wanted – and even the legislators now would be able to invite someone that they wanted to invite to give the prayer when it was their turn."
The attorney suggests that rejecting a government official's prayer because it happens to be Christian raises serious constitutional questions.
Rowan County commissioners have 90 days in which to decide whether to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The case is Lund v. Rowan County.