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Hearing set next month in dispute over prayer at Forsyth Commission meeting prayer

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WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina — A hearing is set next month on whether the Forsyth County Commission can resume its policy of allowing sectarian prayer before its meetings.

U.S. District Judge James Beaty Jr. issued an order Wednesday saying a hearing will be conducted Nov. 20, The Winston-Salem Journal (http://bit.ly/1u9ws4U) reported.

The county in June asked Beaty to drop a 2010 order that banned the commission from having clergy deliver sectarian prayer before its meetings.

The request came after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a town in New York did not violate the U.S. Constitution by allowing ministers to deliver Christian prayers at meetings because the town had an inclusive policy.

Forsyth County had used a similar practice before it was blocked by an earlier court order.

Chris Brook with the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, said Wednesday the group is concerned that whatever policy is put in place is welcoming to all faiths in Forsyth County.

Brett Harvey, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, said Beaty likely wants to hear how the recent New York ruling affects the current order involving Forsyth County.

"The court's order focused on regulating the content of the prayers, and the Supreme Court has made clear that the government cannot regulate the content of prayers," Harvey said.

Forsyth County was sued in federal court in 2007 about its prayers. The county was inviting local clergy members to pray at the start of meetings and did not restrict the content of their prayers.

Since Beaty issued the injunction in 2010, the commissioners have been saying prayers with nonspecific references to God or holding a moment of silence at the start of meetings.


Information from: Winston-Salem Journal, http://www.journalnow.com

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