Court to Decide if Gov't Prayers Can Include Jesus

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A case about whether prayers should stop mentioning Jesus Christ before county commissioners meetings is being heard before a U.S. District Court in North Carolina.

The recommendation was made by Forsyth County Magistrate Trevor Sharp and comes after a lawsuit was filed years ago when two residents objected to the use of prayer before the meetings of the county's board of commissioners. The residents are members of the local chapter of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

The magistrate had rejected the county's argument of allowing clergy to give any type of prayer before meetings on a first-come, first-served basis is fair.

Sharp maintains that speaking of "Jesus, Jesus Christ, Christ or Savior" is "an unconstitutional preference for Christianity over other religions by the government."

If the court rules in favor of Sharp, it will issue an injunction to prevent sectarian prayer in all county government meetings. According to Sharp, the 4th Circuit which includes North Carolina, has said that prayers must be nonsectarian.

Mike Johnson, an attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund who is representing the county, said that the final ruling is about a month away, and that he will be filing a brief outlining his disagreement with Sharp's recommendation.

The court case was not discussed at the county commissioners meeting Tuesday night. A pastor of a Kernersville church prayed before the meeting began and mentioned Jesus twice.

"We feel very confident," said Katherine Parker, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, who has represented the plaintiffs in court told the Winston-Salem Journal. "We knew the law was on our side or we would not have brought the case."

Sources:  Winston-Salem Journal, Associated Press 

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