• Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Categories
    Categories Displays a list of categories from this blog.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Archives
    Archives Contains a list of blog posts that were created previously.

Religious Liberty

The ACLU works to guarantee that all people are free to follow and practice their faith -- or no faith at all -- without government influence or interference and that the government remains completely neutral regarding matters of religion and belief. 

RICHMOND, VA – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit announced yesterday that the full court would reconsider a September 2-1 panel decision that allowed the commissioners of Rowan County, North Carolina, to continue their practice of opening meetings with prayers that coerced public participation and overwhelmingly advanced beliefs specific to one religion.

With the grant of en banc review, that panel decision will be vacated, and all 15 judges for the Fourth Circuit will now review a lower court decision that found the commissioners’ practice unconstitutional.

“We’re very pleased that the full Fourth Circuit has agreed to review this practice that is clearly out of step with the First Amendment’s protection of religious liberty,” said Chris Brook, Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, which represents three Rowan County residents in a challenge to the commissioners’ policy. “When people attend meetings of their local government, they should not have to worry about being coerced to participate in a sectarian prayer that goes against their beliefs and being discriminated against by local officials when they don’t.”

...

RICHMOND, VA – In a divided 2-1 ruling, a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit today reversed a lower court decision that found the commissioners of Rowan County, North Carolina, violated the Constitution when they coerced public participation in prayers that overwhelmingly advanced beliefs specific to one religion.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which represents three Rowan County residents in a challenge to the commissioners’ prayer policy, says it will ask the Fourth Circuit to review the ruling en banc, in which the case would be heard by all 15 judges on the Fourth Circuit. In a dissenting opinion today, Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson wrote that “the message actually delivered in this case was not one of welcome but of exclusion” and that “it is the combination of the role of the commissioners, their instructions to the audience, their invocation of a single faith, and the local governmental setting that threatens to blur the line between church and state to a degree unimaginable in [the Supreme Court’s decision in] Town of Greece.”

“Today’s ruling is out of step with the First Amendment’s protection of religious liberty for all, and we will ask the full appellate court to review this decision,” said Chris Brook, Legal Director for the ACLU of North Carolina. “Rowan County residents should be able to attend local government meetings without being coerced to participate in a sectarian prayer or worry that the commissioners may discriminate against them if they do not. As Judge Wilkinson wrote in his dissent today, the facts in this case are a ‘conceptual world apart’ from those the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in Greece, New York, and that is why we will seek en banc review.”

...

RICHMOND, VA – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit will hold oral arguments on Wednesday, January 27, in the appeal of a federal court ruling that found the county commissioners of Rowan County, North Carolina, violated the Constitution when they coerced public participation in prayers that overwhelmingly advanced beliefs specific to one religion. Between 2007 and 2013, more than 97 percent of the prayers delivered by commissioners before public meetings were specific to one religion, Christianity.

The ACLU-NC Legal Foundation and national ACLU Program on the Freedom of Religion and Belief filed a lawsuit challenging the commissioners’ coercive prayer practice in March 2013 on behalf of Rowan County residents Nan Lund, Robert Voelker, and Liesa Montag-Siegel. In May 2015, a federal district court ruled the practice unconstitutional and ordered the commissioners to cease opening their meetings with coercive, sectarian prayer and a request that the public join them in prayers that advanced one faith.

The case will be the first time a federal appeals court has reviewed a government prayer policy since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the invocation practice of Greece, New York, was constitutional. In his May 2015 ruling, U.S. Judge James Beaty ruled that Rowan County’s prayer practice “falls outside of the prayer practices approved in the [U.S. Supreme Court decision] in Town of Greece.”

...

RICHMOND, VA – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit will hold oral arguments on January 27 in the appeal of a federal court ruling that found the county commissioners of Rowan County, North Carolina, violated the Constitution when they coerced public participation in prayers that overwhelmingly advanced beliefs specific to one religion.

“Residents should be able to attend and participate in local government meetings without being subjected to religious coercion or the fear that government officials may discriminate against them because they hold different beliefs,” said Chris Brook, Legal Director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Carolina Legal Foundation. “We look forward to presenting our case to the Fourth Circuit in order to ensure that local government meetings in Rowan County are welcoming to all community members.”

The ACLU-NC Legal Foundation and national ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief filed a lawsuit challenging the commissioners’ coercive prayer practice in March 2013 on behalf of Rowan County residents Nan Lund, Robert Voelker, and Liesa Montag-Siegel. Between 2007 and 2013, more than 97 percent of the prayers delivered by commissioners before public meetings were specific to one religion, Christianity. In May 2015, a federal district court ruled the practice unconstitutional and ordered the commissioners to cease opening their meetings with prayers that coerced public participation and had the effect of discriminating against religious minorities in the community.

...

RALEIGH – The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation is asking whether Governor Pat McCrory’s office is using any taxpayer dollars or other public resources to promote religion at an upcoming prayer rally in Charlotte. In a public records request filed yesterday, the civil liberties group asked for information regarding the governor’s participation in The Response: North Carolina on September 26 at the Charlotte Convention Center. The event’s website says the focus of the rally is “unashamedly Christian” and “the only name that will be lifted up will be the name of Jesus Christ.” Gov. McCrory is being advertised as the event’s main speaker.

“North Carolinians deserve to know whether Governor McCrory is spending their tax dollars to promote religion,” said Chris Brook, Legal Director for the ACLU-NC Legal Foundation. “Elected officials have every right to practice and discuss their faith, but they shouldn’t use taxpayer resources to promote their own religious views over others.”

Read the ACLU-NC Legal Foundation’s public records request to Gov. McCrory’s office here.