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4th Circuit: Council prayers unconstitutionally advance Christianity

By The Associated Press
07.23.04

RICHMOND, Va. — A federal appeals court yesterday upheld a judge's ruling that prohibits the Great Falls, S.C., Town Council from opening its meetings with a prayer that mentions Jesus Christ.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that such prayers amount to an unconstitutional government advancement of one religion: Christianity.

Darla Kaye Wynne, a Wiccan high priestess, sued the town after its leaders refused to open meetings only with nonsectarian prayers or to allow members of different faiths to lead the prayers. Wynne claimed she was ostracized for refusing to stand and bow her head during the Christian prayers.

U.S. District Judge Cameron McGowan of Rock Hill, S.C., ruled last August that the prayers violated the First Amendment's establishment clause. The appeals court agreed, citing U.S. Supreme Court rulings that allow only generic prayers by government bodies.

"Public officials' brief invocations of the Almighty before engaging in public business have always ... been part of our nation's history," Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote in Wynne v. Town of Great Falls. "The Town Council of Great Falls remains free to engage in such invocations prior to council meetings. The opportunity to do so may provide a source of strength to believers, and a time of quiet reflection for all."

She continued: "This opportunity does not, however, provide the Town Council, or any other legislative body, license to advance its own religious views in preference to all others, as the Town Council did here."

Judges Robert King and David R. Hansen, a member of the 8th Circuit designated to hear the case, joined in the ruling.


Update
Groups urge S.C. councils not to invoke Jesus in opening prayers
But state attorney general says he won't tell local governments what to do despite Supreme Court's refusal to hear appeal from town that defended sectarian prayers. 10.05.05

Previous
Jesus' name barred from prayers at S.C. town council meetings
Federal judge sides with Wiccan high priestess who challenged officials’ prayers; mayor says town will appeal. 08.25.03

Related

Ruling limiting prayers at public meetings causes stir in Bible Belt

4th Circuit's decision has snuffed traditional prayers in some towns, ushered in nondenominational prayers or moments of silence in others, and left many officials confused over what is allowed. 11.22.04

4th Circuit rejects Wiccan's bid to lead prayer at county meetings
Judges say Virginia board of supervisors has included leaders from a variety of religions and therefore hasn't advanced any one faith. 04.15.05

Justices won't intervene in several Decalogue cases
High court turns away appeals involving four displays in Kentucky, Ohio; meanwhile, ruling stands in South Carolina prayer case. 06.28.05

Federal judge tosses Va. councilman's prayer lawsuit
Court says prayers delivered at start of council meetings are 'government speech,' therefore cannot promote Christianity or any other specific religion. 08.17.06

When government prays, no one wins
By Charles C. Haynes National Day of Prayer is popular, but why is government in the prayer business at all? People of favored faiths get pabulum that has little to do with authentic prayer; other faiths are discriminated against. 05.15.05

Legislative prayer

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