NC county to pay $285,000 in settlement with ACLU over prayer at meetings

NC county to pay $285,000 in settlement with ACLU over prayer at meetings
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A North Carolina county will pay $285,000 in a settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union over prayers at the start of commissioner meetings.

The Rowan Country Board of Commissioners voted unanimously this week to approve the court-ordered payment, according to the Salisbury Post. 

The payment will come out of the county’s fund balance, partially a savings fund, according to the paper.

“We are obviously very unhappy with this and I think a few of us are, probably, physically sick to our stomach that we have to do this, but this is the risk that we took,” Board Chairman Greg Edds told the Salisbury Post.

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Edds, calling the ACLU “bullies,” told the paper that the legal battle was “about elected officials, regardless of their faith tradition, being able to exercise their First Amendment rights.”

“We’ve said over and over that, as people of different faiths earn their ability to take these seats, that we would respect their right to provide any prayer that they want to do,” he said.

The commissioners were originally sued in 2013 by three county residents who, represented by the ACLU, accused the county of a “coercive” practice by opening meetings with Christian prayers.

The Supreme Court refused last year to take up the case, upholding the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals’ 2017 ruling that the prayers were unconstitutional.

“The prayer practice served to identify the government with Christianity and risked conveying to citizens of minority faiths a message of exclusion,” the 4th Circuit ruled.

The North Carolina ACLU praised the case’s outcome, quoting the judge in the 4th Circuit court ruling: “Free religious exercise can only remain if not influenced and directed by the hand of the state.”