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Prayer Lawsuit On The Docket For US Court Of Appeals

A picture of the US Supreme Court building.

Attorneys will argue Wednesday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit about the merits of prayer at government meetings. A lawsuit challenging prayer at County Commission meetings is before a panel of three judges.

Residents in Rowan County and the ALCU sued over prayer in 2013. Carl Tobias teaches at the University of Richmond School Of Law and says the panel could rule several different ways.

"From no prayer at all, to having sectarian prayers to inviting local clergy, to having the commissioners offering the prayers, so there is just a diversity of approaches," he explained.

This religious controversy started three years ago in Rowan County, northeast of Charlotte. More recently, the Supreme Court has weighed in on prayer at a community meeting in the state of New York. Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, cautioning counties not to coerce people to pray at these meeting moving forward. Tobias believes precedence from that case may affect how judges consider intimidation in the Carolina case.

"There was something that looked like coercion, at least according to the arguments made by the ACLU. So we'll just have to see. It may be a pretty close case, it may depend upon who the three judges are on the panel," Tobias said.

This Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals court is in Richmond, V.A. and covers five southeastern states. The three-judge panel is expected to rule by early summer. It is possible the Rowan County case could then elevate to the Supreme Court.

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