Forsyth County Will Argue Speech, Religion And Discrimination in Federal Court Today

Nov 20, 2014

A federal judge in Winston-Salem will hear arguments today on whether to lift an injunction on Forsyth County's prayer policy at county meetings.
Credit wnd.adreas / PhotoRee / Creative Commons

Forsyth County wants a federal judge to lift an injunction, allowing sectarian prayers from clergy before meetings.  However, the ACLU wants the court to require that the county change its prayer policy to include people of non-traditional faiths.

A 2010 District Court injunction requires the county censor any invocations – ensuring only generic prayers are offered. 

But a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision says a municipality cannot censor the content of prayers before meetings, as long as its policy is inclusive.

But Chris Brook of the ACLU of North Carolina says the Forsyth County’s prayer policy is discriminatory.

“That raises some very serious questions about whether denominations with atypical leadership structures, small denominations or whether non-believers would be allowed to deliver invocation that solemnizes the proceedings,” Brook says, adding that if the injunction if lifted, the county should have to change its policy.

Brett Harvey of the Alliance Defending Freedom will argue the case on behalf of Forsyth County.  He says their prayer policy is already inclusive.  Harvey wants the injunction lifted without requiring policy changes.

“The injunction was solely designed to force Forsyth County to censor the prayers. That's the only thing that the plaintiffs sued for, and that's what the injunction was about,” Harvey says.

Each party will argue its side at a hearing in Winston-Salem this morning.