Tuesday, May 05, 2015

District Court Invalidates Invocations Delivered By County Commissioners Instead of Invited Clergy

In Lund v. Rowan County, North Carolina, (MD NC May 4, 2015), a North Carolina federal district court held that a county Board of Commissioners invocation policy is not constitutionally permissible under the Supreme Court's Town of Greece decision when sectarian invocations are delivered by the county commissioners themselves rather than invited clergy and other prayer-givers.  The court said in part:
Under the Board’s practice, the government is delivering prayers that were exclusively prepared and controlled by the government, constituting a much greater and more intimate government involvement in the prayer practice than that at issue in Town of Greece or Marsh....
Additionally, because of the prayer practice’s exclusive nature, that is, being delivered solely by the Commissioners, the prayer practice cannot be said to be nondiscriminatory....  [T]he present case presents a closed-universe of prayer-givers, that being the Commissioners themselves, who favored religious beliefs believed to be common to the majority of voters in Rowan County. While an all-comers policy is not necessarily required, a nondiscriminatory one is. When all faiths but those of the five elected Commissioners are excluded, the policy inherently discriminates and disfavors religious minorities. That some day a believer in a minority faith could be elected does not remedy that until then, minority faiths have no means of being recognized.
The court also held that the county's prayer practice is unconstitutionally coercive in violation of the Establishment Clause. Charlotte Observer reports on the decision.