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PUBLIC RELIGIOUS EXPRESSION UNDER FIRE! Rowan County Appeals Lawsuit Over Prayer Before Commissioner

Friday, July 31, 2015

Liberty Institute and its high profile volunteer attorney Allyson Ho appeal on behalf of County’s right to continue what the Supreme Court says is “part of the fabric of our society”

This week, along with The Gibbs Law Firm and Alliance Defending Freedom, Liberty Institute and its high-profile volunteer attorney—Allyson Ho, the only female lawyer who has argued two cases in the last Supreme Court of the United States’ term—filed a brief at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in the case of Lund v. Rowan County, defending the right of the Rowan County, North Carolina commissioners to open their meetings in prayer after the prayer was challenged by The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).


For many years, the Rowan County Commissioners opened their meetings with legislation prayer—an activity, as described by Supreme Court Justice Kennedy in his opinion in Galloway v. Town of Greece, that “has become part of our heritage and tradition, part of our expressive idiom, similar to the Pledge of Allegiance, inaugural prayer, or the recitation of ‘God save the United States and this honorable Court’ at the opening of this Court’s sessions.”

Rowan County allowed each commissioner, on a rotating basis, an opportunity to offer an invocation or lead a moment of silence at the beginning of each commissioners’ session—which also includes a call to order and the Pledge of Allegiance. Each commissioner decided whether to open with a moment of silence or a prayer (of which the content was also his or her decision). No one was required to participate in the invocation. They could remain seated, leave the room, or arrive after invocation.

But in March 2013 on behalf of three Rowan County resident, the ACLU objected to the invocations. After a two-year legal battle, a federal court ruled that the Rowan County Board of Commissioners violated the Constitution with their prayer practice before meetings. Liberty Institute and its allied attorneys are now appealing this ruling.

“We are honored that someone of Allyson Ho’s reputation and accomplishment is leading this appeal for our client,” says Hiram Sasser, Liberty Institute Deputy Chief Counsel. “Her extensive experience before the United States Supreme Court is impressive and extremely helpful on this issues.”

Ms. Ho is nationally recognized as a “superstar appellate lawyer” as noted in Chambers and Partners. After earning a Ph.D. from Rice University and a J.D. from University of Chicago Law School, Ms. Ho clerked for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and currently serves on the bipartisan Federal Judicial Evaluation Committee. Most recently, Ms. Ho served as lead counsel in Liberty Institute’s successful defense of the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial in San Diego, California.


In its 52-page brief, Liberty Institute asserts that the legislative prayers offered by the county commissioners do not offend the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment under Chambers v. Marsh and Galloway v. Town of Greece—but resolve this case and require a reversal.

<>··Galloway v. Town of Greece—In 1984, the United States Supreme Court ruled that governmental bodies may open their meetings in prayer—delivered by local, volunteer clergy—without violating the Establishment Clause, including prayers with specific religious references.

Liberty Institute applies the rulings of these two cases further in three key points of its argument:

<>1.2.3.··Plaques and memorials

<>·Ten Commandments and Nativity scenes or menorahs on public and private property

<>·The expression of “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance

<>··State laws that protect religious liberty

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