A federal court has ordered the Rowan County Board of Commissioners in North Carolina to stop opening its meetings with overtly Christian prayers.


In a news release, the American Civil Liberties Union said the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina prohibited the county from “knowingly and/or intentionally delivering or allowing to be delivered sectarian prayers” at official board meetings.

Three citizens and the ACLU of North Carolina had filed a lawsuit against the board of commissioners in March.

The lawsuit alleged that the board's opening prayers had included unmistakably Christian phrases, such as "the birth of Jesus Christ," "the guidance of the Holy Spirit," "the resurrection," and the "virgin birth." More than 97 percent of board meetings since 2007 opened with Christian prayers, according to the ACLU.

“We are very pleased that the court reaffirmed one of the most basic principles of religious liberty – that all members of the community should be treated and welcomed equally by their government, regardless of their personal religious beliefs,” said Chris Brook, legal director for the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation. “We urge the commissioners to obey the rule of law and comply with the injunction. Opening government meetings with prayers that are specific to only one religion not only alienates people of different beliefs but also clearly violates the Constitution’s protection of religious liberty.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled last year that Greece, New York violated the First Amendment by holding Christian prayers at town board meetings. The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected to rule on prayers at government meetings by June 2014.