A federal appeals court reopened a case on October 31st concerning the constitutionality of Christian prayers at county board meetings in Rowan County, North Carolina.
The case will be heard by all 15 members of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in late January in response to a request from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for a rehearing.
In March 2014, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of three county residents-- Nancy Lund, Liesa Montag-Siegel and Robert Voelker-- who said that the prayers, which were predominantly Christian, that Rowan County commissioners offered at county board meetings were coercive.
In May 2015, U.S. District Judge James Beaty ruled that the practice was unconstitutional .
In September, a three-judge panel overturned the 2015 decision that deemed the prayers unconstitutional by a 2-1 vote, citing a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in which prayer at public meetings were upheld in the town of Greece, New York.
The difference between the case in Greece and Rowan County’s lies in the people offering the prayers. In Greece, religious leaders from different faith traditions were invited to offer prayers for the board before their meetings. In Rowan County, however, elected officials were offering the prayers themselves, with 97 percent of those prayers being from the Christian tradition.
The full Fourth Circuit will review the decision that deemed the practice unconstitutional.