Oral argument today in Rowan County, NC legislative prayer case (Briefs) – Fourth Circuit

Today, the Fourth Circuit will hear oral arguments in Lund v. Rowan County. The County is appealing the decision of the Middle District of North Carolina, which ruled the County’s public prayer practice unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The crux of the issue: is the County’s practice government prayer that coerces the audience toward a particular religious belief – in this case Christianity? Or, is the County’s practice to allow individual lawmakers an opportunity to voice their own beliefs prior to each meeting?

Supreme Court precedent in Town of Greece v. Galloway (2014) and Marsh v. Chambers (1983) held that legislators can invite third party clergy to deliver prayers for the benefit of the legislators. Though, the practices in those case each differed a bit from what is at issue here. In both of those cases, it was clergy that delivered the prayer. Greece was a 5-4 decision that pointed out that prayer must be nondiscriminatory, though the town need not search outside its borders for clergy to deliver the prayers. Here, the County Commission delivered the prayers. Whether the legislators themselves can direct and deliver the prayers is a new wrinkle. This case could, eventually, find its way to SCOTUS.

Here are the briefs: