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Rowan County Commissioners Must Cease Christian Prayers, Demands Humanist Group

For Immediate Release


Merrill Miller, 202-238-9088 ext. 105, merrillmiller@americanhumanist.org

Monica Miller, 202-238-9088 ext. 120, mmiller@americanhumanist.org

(Washington, DC, Oct. 8, 2015)—The American Humanist Association, with other secular and religious liberty organizations, signed onto an amicus curiae brief, filed on behalf of the plaintiffs in Nancy Lund et al. v. Rowan County, a lawsuit challenging the legislative prayer practices of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners in North Carolina.

The brief, filed with the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, states that the prayers delivered exclusively by Commissioners at the opening of their board meetings violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The Rowan County Commissioners deliver prayers themselves from a dais while facing the public. Since November 2007, only Christian prayers have been offered, and some Commissioners have included proselytizing messages such as, “I pray that the citizens of Rowan County will love you, Lord, and put you first.” The brief asserts that these legislative prayer practices differ significantly from the U.S. Supreme Court case Town of Greece v. Galloway, which upheld a non-discriminatory practice of permitting citizens of all religious backgrounds, including atheists, to deliver invocations at board meetings. In Town of Greece, the Court upheld Greece’s prayer practices in part because the invocations were not coercive or proselytizing and they were offered for the benefit of the board, not the public.

“Local governments must remain religiously neutral and uphold their citizens’ right to freedom from religious coercion by the state, especially because the board’s decisions directly impact their financial well-being and daily lives,” said Monica Miller, senior counsel for the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “When the Commissioners, as opposed to private citizens, deliver prayers at board meetings, they send a strong message to non-Christian citizens of Rowan County that they are unfavored by their own government. They also send the message that Christians are favored members of the community.”

The Appignani Humanist Legal Center is currently involved in a similar lawsuit asserting that the legislative prayers offered by members of the Carroll County (Maryland) Board of Commissioners are unconstitutional because they are less inclusive and more invidious than the prayer practices upheld in the Greece case.

A copy of the amicus brief may be found here.


Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, DC, the American Humanist Association (AHA) works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other nontheistic Americans. The AHA advances the ethical and life-affirming philosophy of humanism, which—without beliefs in any gods or other supernatural forces—encourages individuals to live informed and meaningful lives that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

Special thanks to the Louis J. Appignani Foundation for their support of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.