Washington, D.C., August 2, 2011 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) applauded a federal appeals court ruling that the policy of beginning commission meetings in a North Carolina county with a sectarian prayer was unconstitutional because it promoted one faith over others.
The League, a longtime advocate of the separation of church and state, joined with several other organizations in a friend-of-the-court brief (PDF) asking the court to uphold a lower court decision invalidating Forsyth County's invocation policy.
"This decision is a clear victory for religious freedom in North Carolina," said David Friedman, ADL Washington, D.C. Regional Director. "The Court was correct to see this as a clear-cut case of government advancement or support for religion in violation of the First Amendment."
At issue was a policy authorizing invocations during Forsyth County commission meetings. While the policy invited clergy from all faiths to provide invocations, in practice around 80 percent of the prayers were overtly Christian.
In a 2-1 decision issued July 29, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the policy as implemented advanced religion in violation of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.
In his decision, Circuit Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson discussed the practical impact of the policy, especially on religious minorities within the community. He wrote, "…the First Amendment teaches that religious faith stands on a different footing from other forms of speech and observance. Because religious belief is so intimate and so central to our being, government advancement and effective endorsement of one faith carries a particular sting for citizens who hold devoutly to another. This is precisely the opposite of what legislative invocations should bring about."
The decision is listed as Joyner v. Forsyth County, NC (No. 10-1232, July 29, 2011).