ROWAN COUNTY, N.C. — The county commission’s practice of opening meetings with exclusively Christian prayers has cost the taxpayers $285,000 in legal fees.
The Rowan County commissioners approved the payment to the American Civil Liberties Union after a court ordered repayment for legal fees in December after Rowan County lost its case. The six-year legal fight over prayer at Rowan County Commission meetings is finally complete.
In 2013, the ACLU sued Rowan County on behalf of some citizens who said they felt excluded by the Christian prayers said by some commissioners.
Thomas Jefferson explained the intent of the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution, which reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” This, he said, built a “wall of separation of church and state.”
Rowan County Prayer Timeline:
- 2012: ACLU wrote Rowan County Commissioners requesting them to cease prayer at meetings
- 2013: ACLU filed lawsuit
- 2014: U.S. Supreme Court ruled clergy-led prayers at public meetings are constitutional
- 2015: Federal judge found Rowan County’s prayer practice unconstitutional
- 2016: Appeals court upheld the commissioner’s right to pray
- 2017: U.S. Appeals court rules prayer at meeting unconstitutional
- 2018: Supreme Court declines to take Rowan County prayer case
The case was sent to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the judges chose not to hear the case.