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Supreme Court declines to rule on county board meeting prayers

The US Supreme Court [official website] on Tuesday declined to review [order list, PDF] a case concerning whether a county board of commissioners in North Carolina violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment [text] by opening their public meetings with prayers. In Joyner v. Forsyth County, decided last July, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] held [JURIST report] that the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners [official website] violated the Establishment Clause by effectively using a public forum to endorse Christianity. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website], which originally filed the lawsuit on behalf of two Forsyth county residents, applauded [press release] the Supreme Court's refusal to review the case, saying that the law was now settled on prayer in government meetings. Katy Parker, director of the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation (ACLU-NCLF) [advocacy website] declared:

Overtly sectarian prayer does not belong in a government meeting. This is the same conclusion that was reached by three separate lower courts who heard our case. The law is now settled, and we are very happy that nobody in Forsyth County will feel like a second-class citizen because of what they believe.
The Supreme Court's decision not to review Joyner effectively makes the Fourth Circuit's decision final and ends a legal battle that began five years ago when the ACLU filed suit against the Board of Commissioners in 2007.

Public prayer has generated a substantial amount of controversy recently. In August, JURIST contributor John Whitehead noted [JURIST op-ed] that the Fourth Circuit's decision in Joyner contradicted precedent establishing that public officials beginning meetings with a prayer is constitutionally permissible. In April the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website] dismissed [JURIST report] a constitutional challenge to the National Day of Prayer (NDP) [official website]. The Seventh Circuit's decision overturned a ruling [JURIST report] by the US District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin [official website] that the NDP was an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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