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ACLU sues North Carolina county over Christian invocations at meetings

Rowan County commission meetings typically open with a pro-Christian invocation. In Lund v. Rowan County, some residents say the practice is offensive and makes them uncomfortable.

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The American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit against a rural county in North Carolina, asking a federal judge to permanently enjoin local officials from delivering overtly Christian invocations prior to county commission meetings.

Members of the Rowan County Commission traditionally deliver an invocation prior to the pledge of allegiance at the start of public meetings.

Some county residents have complained about what they say are blatantly Christian references in the invocations.

For example, in March 2012, a commissioner ended his invocation: “And, as we pick up the Cross, we will proclaim His name above all names, as the only way to eternal life. I ask this in the name of the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ.”

In December 2012, a commissioner concluded his invocation with the words: “I pray that the citizens of Rowan County will love you Lord, and that they will put you first. In Jesus’s name. Amen.”    

The suit was filed on behalf of three residents of Rowan County who complain that sectarian premeeting prayers and comments are offensive and make them feel excluded from the community and the political process.

The complaint was filed in US District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina on Tuesday. It says that since November 2007, a sectarian prayer has been delivered in 139 of 143 meetings – or roughly 97 percent of the commission’s public meetings.

“I want my local government to be open and welcoming to people of all beliefs,” one of the plaintiffs, Nan Lund, said in a statement. “But when officials begin a public meeting with prayers that are specific to only one religious viewpoint, I feel unwelcome, excluded, and compelled to participate” in a religious exercise, she said.

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