An appeals court has reopened a lawsuit challenging a North Carolina county commission's practice of starting meetings with Christian prayer.

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals decided Monday that the Rowan County case will be reviewed next year by its full 15-judge bench.

In September, a three-judge panel of the Richmond-based court issued a divided ruling upholding commissioners' right to open meetings with prayer as long as they don't pressure others to participate.

But that ruling is on hold until the full court weighs in.

A lower court previously ruled that the practice of delivering almost exclusively Christian prayers at meetings was "unconstitutionality coercive."

The American Civil Liberties Union is leading the challenge and applauded the new development.

Attorneys for Rowan County argued a new review wasn't needed.