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by Chris Brook, Legal Director, ACLU of North Carolina

Local government meetings are a vital part of American democracy. Unlike the U.S. Congress and most state legislatures, town council and county commission meetings commonly allow space for local residents to stand before their elected officials and others in attendance to make public comments on the issues of the day.  It’s an opportunity provided equally to all citizens. Rowan County, North Carolina, is no exception to this practice.

However, in recent years, the Rowan County Commissioners have conducted their public meetings in a way that has not only made many residents feel unwelcome and unequal but has also coerced those in attendance to take part in prayers that do not comport with their personal religious beliefs.

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RALEIGH – The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation is asking whether Governor Pat McCrory’s office is using any taxpayer dollars or other public resources to promote religion at an upcoming prayer rally in Charlotte. In a public records request filed yesterday, the civil liberties group asked for information regarding the governor’s participation in The Response: North Carolina on September 26 at the Charlotte Convention Center. The event’s website says the focus of the rally is “unashamedly Christian” and “the only name that will be lifted up will be the name of Jesus Christ.” Gov. McCrory is being advertised as the event’s main speaker.

“North Carolinians deserve to know whether Governor McCrory is spending their tax dollars to promote religion,” said Chris Brook, Legal Director for the ACLU-NC Legal Foundation. “Elected officials have every right to practice and discuss their faith, but they shouldn’t use taxpayer resources to promote their own religious views over others.”

Read the ACLU-NC Legal Foundation’s public records request to Gov. McCrory’s office here.

RALEIGH – The North Carolina General Assembly has voted to override Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto of Senate Bill 2, which would allow sworn government officials to deny marriage services to legally eligible couples if the officials cite a deeply held religious objection. The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina released the following statement:

“This is a sad day for North Carolina that history will not judge kindly,” said Sarah Preston, acting Executive Director of the ACLU of North Carolina. “Just eight months after our state extended the freedom to marry to same-sex couples, extremist lawmakers have passed discrimination into law, allowing government officials to deny marriage services to virtually any couple. This shameful backlash against equality will make it harder for all couples in our state to marry and force many to spend what is supposed to be a happy day trapped in a maze of government offices. We encourage any North Carolina couples who encounter new hurdles because of this discriminatory law to contact our office.”

SALISBURY, N.C. – The Rowan County Board of Commissioners today voted to appeal a federal court ruling that found their practice of opening public meetings with commissioner-led prayers specific to one religion to be coercive, discriminatory, and in violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The case, Lund et al. v. Rowan County, will be appealed the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

“We are disappointed that the commissioners have decided to continue defending this discriminatory and unconstitutional policy,” said Chris Brook, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Carolina Legal Foundation, which filed a lawsuit challenging the commissioners’ practice in 2013 on behalf of three Rowan County residents. “Rowan County residents should be able to attend public meetings without being coerced into participating in a government-sponsored prayer or fearing that they may be discriminated against for having different beliefs than the commissioners. We will continue to make our arguments in court in order to ensure that public meetings in Rowan County strive to be welcoming to all members of the community.”

On May 4, U.S. District Judge James Beaty ruled that the commissioners violated the Constitution when they coerced public participation in prayers that overwhelmingly advanced beliefs specific to one religion. Between 2007 and 2013, more than 97 percent of the prayers delivered by commissioners before public meetings were specific to Christianity.

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