ACLU sues Rowan County over prayer in Jesus name | News
SALISBURY - After more than a year of threatening to do so, the American Civil Liberties Union has now filed suit against Rowan County for opening its commission meetings with sectarian prayer.
The suit was filed in Greensboro on Tuesday on behalf of three Rowan County residents, Nancy Lund, Liesa Montag-Siegel, and Robert Voelker.
In February of 2012, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Carolina informed the Rowan County Commission that it would need to stop opening meetings with sectarian prayer. The ACLU told WBTV that it had received 4-5 complaints from people who objected to commissioners praying in the name of Jesus.
The ACLU told the commission it should follow the law that forbids praying sectarian prayer at public meetings. The ACLU said the board certainly could open its meeting in prayer, but not prayer that specified one God or one religion.
The ACLU did say that a lawsuit was a possibility since the organization had successfully filed suit and won a similar case in Forsyth County.
In the suit filed on Tuesday, the claim is made that "Rowan County, continues to knowingly and willfully flout the law, regularly violating the constitutional right of local citizens by opening meetings of its Board of Commissioners with Christian prayer. Since November 2007, 97% of all Board meetings have featured expressly Christian prayer."
After the issue was first brought up by the ACLU, the next two Rowan Commissioner meetings were packed with people who wanted to speak in the public comment part of the meeting. The vast majority spoke in favor of the sectarian prayers. Dozens more people packed buses and came to meetings, praying and singing hymns on the first floor of the county administration building.
The commissioners, with the exception of Raymond Coltrain, said they would continue to open meetings with prayer in the name of Jesus.
Until Tuesday, the issue seemed to have gone away with no resolution.
Nancy Lund, named in the suit as a plaintiff is described as active in the community, serving with the Literacy Council and attending meetings. Lund "is not a Christian and does not subscribe to the religious beliefs promoted by the prayers." The suit states that at the meetings "she feels pressured to participate in sectarian prayers."
Plaintiff Montag-Siegel is Jewish and is described as a long time resident of Rowan County and a retired middle school librarian. She "is offended by the Board's sectarian prayers because they promote religious beliefs to which she does not subscribe, causing her to feel excluded at meetings and from the community. She feels that the prayers send the message that the County and the Board favor Christians, and that non-Christians, like her, are outsiders."
Voelker has attended numerous board meetings, according to the suit. Voelker is not Christian and "at meetings he also feels pressured to stand and participate in the sectarian prayers because all Commissioners and most audience members are standing and the invocation is immediately followed by the Pledge of Allegiance, for which Voelker feels strongly that he needs to stand."
The suit seeks a judgment declaring the practice of offering sectarian prayers is in violation of the constitution and the constitution of the United States, as well as an injunction to stop the Rowan County Board of Commissioners from offering sectarian prayers. The suit also asks for "nominal damages of $1," and that Rowan County pay the legal expenses.