Joyner v. Forsyth County
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Description: The American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a lawsuit in 2007 that challenges the county's freedom to allow opening invocations by volunteers who wish to pray according to the dictates of their own consciences.
NC county seeks to resume prayers in light of US Supreme Court decision
ADF attorneys ask court to lift order against Forsyth County prayer policy in wake of Town of Greece v. Galloway decision
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit upheld the district court’s order in 2011. Although the Supreme Court declined to review the case, the high court upheld a similar policy from the town of Greece, N.Y., on May 5 and affirmed that Americans are free to pray according to their own beliefs at public meetings. ADF says that clears the way for uncensored prayers to resume in Forsyth County.
“In America, we don’t silence people or try to separate what they pray from what they believe,” said ADF Senior Counsel Brett Harvey. “The Supreme Court upheld that principle in its recent decision affirming the freedom of Americans to pray according to their consciences before public meetings. For that reason, we are asking the district court to lift its order against Forsyth County’s prayer policy, which is clearly constitutional.”
“Opening public meetings with prayer is a cherished freedom that the authors of the Constitution themselves practiced,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman. “As the Supreme Court ruled just last month, ‘legislative prayer has become part of our heritage and tradition,’ and a prayer given in the name of a particular deity ‘does not remove it from that tradition.’”
In March 2007, the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State sued the Forsyth County Commission on behalf of three individuals because they claimed to be offended by simply hearing the invited speakers deliver prayers that included a reference to Jesus Christ or any other named deity. They demanded the county discourage or prohibit invited speakers “from including references to Jesus Christ, or any other sectarian deity, as part of their prayers.”
In its opinion in Town of Greece v. Galloway issued last month, the Supreme Court rejected the argument “that legislative prayer may be addressed only to a generic God” and warned that attempts to limit the way people pray are themselves unconstitutional.
“Our tradition assumes that adult citizens, firm in their own beliefs, can tolerate and perhaps appreciate a ceremonial prayer delivered by a person of a different faith,” the court wrote.
As the motion ADF attorneys filed in Joyner v. Forsyth County explains, the court should lift its order because “the only way Forsyth County can comply with the injunction is to abandon what the Constitution permits or to do what the Constitution forbids.”
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
Additional resources: Joyner v. Forsyth County
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Previous news releases:
- 2012-01-17: U.S. Supreme Court refuses Forsyth County prayer case despite divided lower courts
- 2011-10-27: ADF attorneys ask U.S. Supreme Court to review Forsyth County prayer case
- 2011-08-09: Forsyth County will ask U.S. Supreme Court to review prayer case
- 2011-07-29: ADF: 4th Circuit’s decision on Forsyth County prayers out of step with other courts, American history
- 2011-05-11: To pray or not to pray at public meetings, that is the 4th Circuit’s question
- 2010-02-25: ADF files appeal of ruling barring prayer before Forsyth County board meetings
- 2007-05-12: Forsyth County, N.C., decides to oppose legal challenge to opening invocations
- Brett Harvey and Mike Johnson: 4th Circuit wrong to order Forsyth County to censor private prayer (Winston-Salem Journal, 2011-08-08)
- Resource page for Town of Greece v. Galloway, prayer case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2014
- Resource page for Marsh v. Chambers, prayer case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1983
- James Madison's proclamations recommending a day of prayer: July 9, 1812 and July 23, 1813
- The first prayer for the Continental Congress, Sept. 7, 1774
- Image: Painting of the first prayer for the Continental Congress
Legislative prayer cases and legal matters nationwide (map):
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