Forsyth County commission prayer declared unconstitutional; Buncombe next?

In a case that could have implications for the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners invocation, on Jan. 28 a federal judge found that the use of a sectarian prayer to open a public meeting violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Unconstitutional?: The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners bow their heads during the Christian prayer that opened their Jan. 5 meeting. Photo by Jonathan Welch

"The Court concludes that the invocation Policy, as implemented, has resulted in Government-sponsored prayers that advance a specific faith or belief and have the effect of affiliating the Government with that particular faith or belief," U.S. District Court Judge James Beaty wrote in the ruling.

The plaintiffs in the case, two Forsyth County residents represented by the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Winston-Salem chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, declared the ruling a victory in an announcement from the ACLU.

"I am very happy with the Court's ruling today because this court order preserves freedom of conscience for people of all different beliefs, whether they are in the majority or the minority, by requiring our government to remain neutral in matters of religion," Constance Blackmon, one of the plaintiffs, said of the ruling.

Since 1989, the Buncombe commissioners have opened their meetings with a prayer, almost always of the Christian variety. In December, after a magistrate ruled in the plaintiffs' favor in the Forsyth case, Buncombe County legal staff informed the board that the county's prayer policy is almost identical to Forsyth's, and could leave Buncombe vulnerable if the lawsuit went against the commissioners there.

While a leaked memo from Buncombe County Attorney Michael Frue originally indicated that the county might switch to a moment of silence, this was not the case. The commissioners stated they would take up the matter at their Jan. 5 meeting, but reversed course and decided over the holidays, via a series of phone calls between individual commissioners, to keep the policy as it is until the Forsyth case was decided.

The ruling hasn't yet caused the county to reconsider its own prayer, Frue tells Xpress. "I haven't had a chance to advise [the board] on the ruling yet, or discuss it," Frue says. "The prayer's not really an official policy; it's more of a custom, but it is something we'll need to discuss." The city of Asheville is also reviewing its prayer policy.

SHARE

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

One thought on “Forsyth County commission prayer declared unconstitutional; Buncombe next?

  1. WILLIAM WILSON

    WE URGE YOU TO REPEAL THE RULING AGAINST PRAYING IN JESUS NAME. THERE IS NO OTHER NAME BY WHICH MAN CAN BE SAVED. WOULD YOU GO AGAINST THE LAW OF GOD TO ACCOMPLISH YOUR OWN SELFISH RESULTS? VOTING WITH THE DEMS WILL PUT YOU OUT OF OFFICE WITH THEM IN THE NEXT ELECTION. VOTE FOR FREEDOM AND THE RIGHT TO PRAY IN JESUS NAME.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.