Adiós Judeo-Christian heritage.
As in most counties in America, the Board of Commissioners of Forsyth County, North Carolina, begins its public meetings with an invocation. These prayers are given by local religious leaders on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Given that 95 percent of local religious houses identify as Christian, it’s not surprising that many of the invocations include specifically Christian language, often closing the prayer in the name of “Jesus Christ” or “Jesus.”
Two non-Christians from the community with a population of approximately 350,000 sued, arguing that an invocation mentioning Jesus Christ during a public prayer violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.
Even though the pair acknowledged that the Supreme Court held public prayers — called “legislative prayers” — are constitutional in the 1983 case Marsh v. Chambers, the federal district court in North Carolina sided with the protestors.
In a stunning decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit affirmed that judgment in a 2-to-1 decision, holding in the case Joyner v. Forsyth County that prayers unconstitutionally advance Christianity if references to Jesus are more than isolated, or if the content is otherwise too Christian for the court’s taste.
Writing for the majority, Judge Harvie Wilkinson — a respected appellate judge who was appointed by President Reagan – wrote that public prayers are for the purpose of welcoming and including the community to be involved in government. (That’s odd. I always thought it was to ask for God’s blessing.)
The predominance of Christian prayers violated Judge Wilkinson’s novel understanding, and so, joined by Barbara Keenan, who was appointed by President Obama, the court struck down the county’s longstanding practice, calling it “sectarian.”