The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected an appeal from a North Carolina county that had regularly opened its public meetings with Christian prayers.

The church-state dispute is a victory for two Forsyth County residents who brought suit against the Board of Commissioners. Janet Joyner and Constance Lynn Blackmon were represented in their court challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

“When government meetings are opened regularly with Christian prayer, it sends the unmistakable message that non-Christians are second-class citizens in their own community,” said the Rev. Barry Lynn, who heads Americans United, a Washington-based group. “The Constitution clearly forbids government to play favorites when it comes to religion.”

Court records show that 26 of 33 invocations given at the council meetings in 2007 and 2008 contained references to Jesus Christ, the Trinity, or other Christian symbols or names. Clergy members from the community often delivered the sectarian invocations. The county seat is Winston-Salem, one the largest cities in the state.

A federal appeals court last year found the prayers to be an unconstitutional violation of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which forbids any government endorsement of one religion over another.


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