Forsyth Co. Continues to Defend Prayer Policy
Special Report - December 10, 2008
Forsyth County will continue to defend its sectarian prayer policy against a lawsuit that is pending in federal court, despite calls by at least one member of the County Board of Commissioners to pull out of the suit because of alleged costs to the county, according to reports in the Winston-Salem Journal. Board chairman Dave Plyler told the newspaper that the lawsuit will continue for now. The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina (ACLU-NC), along with Winston-Salem chapter of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, filed suit against Forsyth County in March 2007 for its prayer policy, which allows various clergy members from the community to offer sectarian prayers before public meetings. The lawsuit alleges that the policy is unconstitutional because it allows clergy members to pray to specific deities. The Forsyth County Board of Commissioners voted 4 to 3 in April 2007 to defend the policy with the help of the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), which promised to defend it at no cost to the county.
According to the Winston-Salem Journal, county commissioners debated the county’s involvement in the lawsuit at a meeting last week, when concerns were raised about the costs related to the amount of time county staff have put toward providing information about the lawsuit. Board member Beaufort Bailey, who voted against the county’s defense of the policy in 2007, said that he intended to introduce a motion in early 2009 to dismiss the lawsuit. But ADF attorney Mike Johnson, who is leading the defense of the Forsyth County prayer policy, told the Winston-Salem Journal that ADF is committed to covering the costs of the lawsuit. Chairman Plyler also told the newspaper that he has spoken to Mr. Johnson, who assured him again of ADF’s commitment to covering the lawsuit costs.
“We applaud the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners for continuing their efforts to defend the county’s constitutional public prayer policy,” said Tami Fitzgerald, staff attorney for the North Carolina Family Policy Council. “The ACLU-NC’s lawsuit represents a direct attack on the religious and free speech rights of the citizens of North Carolina. Opening government meetings with public prayer is a longstanding American tradition that has been sanctioned by the U.S. Supreme Court and deserves to be protected in our state.”
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