Skip to main content

To pray or not to pray at public meetings, that is the 4th Circuit's question

Attorneys with ADF available for media interviews following hearing to decide whether ACLU, AU can force censorship of prayer before public bodies

Wednesday, May 11, 2011
ADF-allied attorney sound bites:  Mike Johnson #1  |  Mike Johnson #2
WHO: ADF-allied attorney Mike Johnson and ADF Senior Counsel Brett Harvey
WHAT: Available for media interviews following hearing in Joyner v. Forsyth County
WHEN: Thursday, May 12, immediately following hearing, which begins at 9:30 a.m. EDT
WHERE: U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, U.S. Courthouse, 1000 E. Main St., Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. — Alliance Defense Fund allied attorney Mike Johnson and ADF Senior Legal Counsel Brett Harvey will be available for media interviews Thursday after Johnson, former ADF senior legal counsel and now founding dean of the Pressler School of Law of Louisiana College, argues before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit on behalf of the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners.

The county appealed after a district court barred the commissioners last year from opening public meetings with prayer that may mention a particular deity. ADF filed the appeal on the board’s behalf in a lawsuit filed in 2007 by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. County residents overwhelmingly support the board’s prayer policy.

“In a country whose founders opened public meetings with prayer, its public officials should be able to do the same. Nor should they be forced to whitewash the prayers of those invited to offer them simply because secularist groups don’t like people praying according to their own conscience,” said Johnson. “We are confident that the 4th Circuit will acknowledge our nation’s heritage of prayer above the unfounded arguments to eradicate it.”

In March 2007, ACLU and AU attorneys sued the county board in federal court on behalf of three individuals because it “does not have a policy which discourages or prohibits those whom [the board] has invited to deliver prayers from including references to Jesus Christ, or any other sectarian deity, as part of their prayers.”

“In other words, the ACLU and AU are advocating censorship,” said ADF Senior Counsel Brett Harvey. “They do not wish to allow private citizens invited by the board to express themselves consistent with the dictates of their own conscience.”

In January 2010, a federal court issued an order agreeing with a federal magistrate’s recommendation to rule against Forsyth County, despite arguments made against the recommendation filed by ADF attorneys and its allies.  After a public meeting the following month that attracted nearly 1,000 county residents in support of continuing the case, the board of commissioners voted in favor of filing the appeal with the 4th Circuit.

Barbara Weller, David Gibbs, and local counsel Bryce D. Neier, three of more than 2,000 attorneys in the ADF alliance, are assisting with the case, Joyner v. Forsyth County, which was originally filed with the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith.  Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.

Related Case(s) / Legal Matter(s)