A federal judge has ordered Rowan County commissioners to end their practice of opening government meetings with a prayer specific to one religion.
Judge James A. Beaty Jr. issued a preliminary injunction granting a victory to three complainants who said their rights were violated by prayers, most of which are in the name of Jesus Christ, the Salisbury Post reported.
"We are very pleased that the court reaffirmed one of the most basic principles of religious liberty - that all members of the community should be treated and welcomed equally by their government, regardless of their personal religious beliefs," said Chris Brook, legal director for the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, who is representing the plaintiffs.
"Opening government meetings with prayers that are specific to only one religion not only alienates people of different beliefs but also clearly violates the Constitution's protection of religious liberty," Brook said in a statement issued after the judge's decision.
Rowan Commission Chairman Jim Sides had no comment on the ruling, saying he and his fellow commissioners are waiting to confer with their attorneys.
“Defendant Rowan County, North Carolina is hereby enjoined from knowingly and/or intentionally delivering or allowing to be delivered sectarian prayers at meetings of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners during the pendency of this suit,” a docket entry in the case for U.S. Middle District Court read.
In March, the American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit on behalf of three Rowan County residents demanding that the board of commissioners stop its practice of opening government meetings with prayers that were specific to one religion.
The organization accused the board of violating the First Amendment provision ordaining the separation of church and state by routinely praying to Jesus Christ to start its meetings.
In March, the commissioners opened their meeting with a prayer just one week after the ACLU filed its lawsuit.