Judge Allows Sectarian Prayers Before City Council Meetings in Forsyth

Sectarian Prayer

A federal judge in North Carolina said sectarian prayers could resume before meetings at the Forsyth County Commission. County’s Commissioner Gloria Whisenhunt, who led the legal battle for seven years to make sure Forsyth’s policy of permitting sectarian prayer could continue, as well as Janet Joyner, who sued the county over its non-secular policy in March 2007, were both witness to the verdict delivered on November 20.

After hearing oral arguments from both sides, United States District Judge James Beaty, Jr. ended the dispute over Forsyth’s prayer policy by lifting an injunction placed in 2010, thereby allowing the city’s county commissioners to abide by their original prayer policy.

“I’m delighted,” said Whisenhunt, who was chairwoman of the commissioners when Joyner and county residents sued the county, and is now vice chairwoman. “It’s been a long battle but it was worth it. … I thought from the beginning that this would be where we’d end up. I’m very pleased.”

Joyner, too, said she was happy with the verdict, as Beaty urged the county commissioners not to discriminate after reminding them of their obligation towards county residents. She said the prayer policy should be revised to make sure everyone is included at the time of an invocation.

“I’m very glad to see the court has warned the county that the commissioners’ policy should be inclusive and reflective of diversity,” she said.

The legal battle between Whisenhunt and Joyner has been a long one, even though it was spared the proceedings of the Supreme Court. Earlier this year, the highest court of the country ruled in a 5-4 verdict that the town of Greece in New York was not violating the American Constitution by allowing ministers to recite Christian prayers at city council meetings because the town actually had an inclusive policy.

However, that verdict contradicted a 2011 ruling by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which said Forsyth County Commission was wrong in allowing sectarian prayers. Yet, the Supreme Court refused to review this particular ruling after the Greece case. Thus, attorneys for Forsyth filed a request thereafter, asking for the 2010 injunction to be lifted. While

Beaty did lift the injunction on Thursday, he ordered Forsyth County commissioners to ensure their prayer policy is revised so it is considered more inclusive and no minority religion or nonbeliever feels discriminated against.

Photo Credits: WGHP TV

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