Rowan County commissioners decided Monday to continue opening their meetings with a prayer, despite a federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU has argued the prayers are unconstitutional and violate the separation of church and state.
“It’s the same practice we’ve always had,” says Commission Chairman Jim Sides, “We rotate around the board. Each commissioner determines if he wants to pray, or how he wants to pray, or who he wants to pray to. If a Muslim gets elected, he’ll be able to pray however he wants to pray; if a Jew gets elected, he’ll be able to pray any prayer he wants to.”
The ACLU says 97 percent of meetings in the last six years have opened with Christian prayers.
“[By] opening meetings with prayers that are specific to only one religion, the Rowan County Commissioners have created an environment where citizens of different beliefs are made to feel alienated,” Chris Brook, legal director of the ACLU North Carolina Legal Fund, said in a statement last week.
The Rowan commission will decide on a law firm to represent it by Friday, according to Sides, and has 20 days to respond to the ACLU suit. Sides said the legal work will be pro bono, but commission will have to pay all court fees.