RALEIGH – The fine line between a fundamental right and a founding principal is getting hashed out in the court system. The U.S. Court of Appeals recently upheld a ruling on the banning of sectarian prayer before a county commission meeting.
This stems from a 2007 Forsyth County Commission meeting where the opening invocation concluded with the words: “For we do make this prayer in your son Jesus' name, Amen."
This set off a long court battle over whether this was legal. The court system says no.
“It didn't prohibit the county from having an opening prayer,” said Frayda Bluestein with the UNC School of Government. “What it said was you have to it with the constitutional prohibition of the state in establishing a particular religion or promoting a particular religion.”
Each day when lawmakers are gaveled into session at the General Assembly, the day begins with a prayer. In the State House, lawmakers give the prayer, and there is not any restriction about what can be said during that prayer.
Judge Niemeyer, who wrote the dissenting opinion, agrees with this practice. Some legal scholars say perhaps there should be some restrictions on what is said before session.
“If you had 400 legislators all giving Christian prayers that would seem to be inconsistent with the Fourth Circuit's opinions,” says Greg Wallace with Campbell University Law School.
One thing there is no question about coming out of this ruling is that the court believes some sort of non-denominational prayer should be allowed to continue at governmental meetings.
It is expected that the Forsyth County Commission will appeal this decision to the Supreme Court.