The Associated Press reports
Judge James A. Beaty Jr. of the US Middle District Court in Greensboro has ordered
the Rowan County Board of Commissioners
to stop praying to Jesus Christ at the start of its meetings. The court's ruling bars county commissioners from "knowingly and/or intentionally delivering or allowing to be delivered sectarian prayers" at official board meetings.
In March, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the ACLU of North Carolina filed a lawsuit
on behalf of three Rowan County residents who demanded that the board stop conducting prayers specific to one religion. The suit alleged that the board violated the constitutional principle of separation of church and state by praying to the Christian deity figure Christ.
At the opening of past meetings, the board has praised the myth of the 'virgin birth' and the 'resurrection' of Christ, as well as declared that "there is only one way to salvation, and that is Jesus Christ."
"We are very pleased that the court reaffirmed one of the most basic principles of religious liberty-- that all members of the community should be treated and welcomed equally by their government, regardless of their personal religious beliefs," Chris Brook, legal director of the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, said following Judge Beaty's ruling. "We urge the commissioners to obey the rule of law and comply with the injunction. 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."
"When the government plays favorites with religion, it sends a message to those who follow non-preferred faiths that they are second-class citizens," said Heather L. Weaver, senior staff attorney for the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.
Rowan County recently made headlines when Republican state lawmakers introduced a resolution
that would have allowed the state to declare an official religion in violation of the Establishment Clause of the Bill of Rights. The measure failed.