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Joyner v. Forsyth County

Description:  The American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a lawsuit in 2007 that challenges the county's freedom to allow opening invocations by volunteers who wish to pray according to the dictates of their own consciences.

Thursday, Nov 20, 2014

Attorney sound bite:  Brett Harvey

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – A federal district court lifted its order against the prayer policy of Forsyth County, N.C., Thursday in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision affirming prayer before public meetings in Town of Greece v. Galloway.       

After winning that lawsuit in May, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing Forsyth County asked the district court to lift its order against the county’s prayer policy. The order required the county to censor the way people pray to ensure only generic prayers are offered at public meetings.

“All Americans should have the liberty to pray without being censored, just as the Supreme Court found only a few months ago, and we are delighted to see this freedom restored in Forsyth County,” said ADF Senior Counsel Brett Harvey. “The Supreme Court affirmed the freedom of Americans to pray according to their consciences before public meetings. For that reason, the district court was right to lift its previous order against Forsyth County’s prayer policy, which is clearly constitutional.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit upheld the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina’s order in Joyner v. Forsyth County in 2011. Although the Supreme Court declined to review the case, it upheld a similar policy from the town of Greece, N.Y., on May 5 and affirmed that Americans are free to pray according to their own beliefs at public meetings. That cleared the way for uncensored prayers to resume in Forsyth County.

In March 2007, the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State sued the Forsyth County Commission on behalf of three individuals because they claimed to be offended by simply hearing the invited speakers deliver prayers that included a reference to Jesus Christ or any other named deity. They demanded the county discourage or prohibit invited speakers “from including references to Jesus Christ, or any other sectarian deity, as part of their prayers.”

In its opinion in Town of Greece v. Galloway, the Supreme Court rejected the argument “that legislative prayer may be addressed only to a generic God” and warned that attempts to limit the way people pray are unconstitutional.

“Our tradition assumes that adult citizens, firm in their own beliefs, can tolerate and perhaps appreciate a ceremonial prayer delivered by a person of a different faith,” the court wrote.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.

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Previous News Releases

Legal Documents

Recommendation of U.S. magistrate: Joyner v. Forsyth County
District court judgment and order: Joyner v. Forsyth County
Appellate brief: Joyner v. Forsyth County
Notice of appeal: Joyner v. Forsyth County
4th Circuit opinion: Joyner v. Forsyth County
Petition for certiorari: Joyner v. Forsyth County
Motion to lift injunction: Joyner v. Forsyth County

Related Resources

ABOUT Brett Harvey

Brett Harvey serves as senior counsel and vice president of allied legal affairs with Alliance Defending Freedom. He has assisted state and local governments on issues involving public invocations and religious expression, and he has successfully represented clients in defense of their First Amendment freedoms and the right to life. Harvey and the Allied Legal Affairs team he leads focus on recruitment, professional engagement, and integration of allies into ADF’s advocacy efforts, including coordinating amicus efforts at state supreme courts, circuit courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court. Harvey earned his J.D. from the Walter F. George School of Law at Mercer University in Georgia in 1995. He is admitted to the bar in the states of Georgia, Florida, Colorado, and Arizona. Harvey has also been admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court; the U.S. Courts of Appeal for the 6th, 9th, 10th, and 11th Circuits; and the U.S. District Court in Colorado. He joined Alliance Defending Freedom in 2000 and has been practicing law since 1995.