U.S. Supreme Court Declines to Hear Forsyth County Sectarian Prayer Case

January 17, 2012 11:51 am

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Decision Marks End of 5-Year Legal Battle to Remove Divisive Sectarian Prayers from Public Board of Commissioners Meetings in Forsyth County, North Carolina

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WASHINGTON. – The U.S. Supreme Court announced today that it will not review a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit finding that the Forsyth County, North Carolina, Board of Commissioners violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by opening an estimated four-fifths of public meetings with sectarian prayer.

The case, Joyner v. Forsyth County, was filed in 2007 by the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation (ACLU-NCLF), and the Winston-Salem Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, on behalf of Janet Joyner and Constance Blackmon.

The two women are longtime Forsyth County residents who had attended meetings of the County Board of Commissioners and objected to the sectarian invocations that were routinely delivered by clergy at meetings. A U.S. magistrate judge, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals previously ruled the prayers unconstitutional, holding that their content amounted to a government endorsement of Christianity over other belief systems.

“Overtly sectarian prayer does not belong in a government meeting,” said Katy Parker, Legal Director for the ACLU-NCLF. “This is the same conclusion that was reached by three separate lower courts who heard our case. The law is now settled, and we are very happy that nobody in Forsyth County will feel like a second-class citizen because of what they believe.”

“One of the most basic rights guaranteed to all Americans is a government that does not pick sides on matters of religion,” said Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. “Government-sponsored sectarian prayer is needlessly divisive, and with the end of this case, religious liberty has prevailed.”

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