The justices’ action leaves in place an appellate court decision barring the county from regularly opening its meetings with Christian invocations.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, one of the groups sponsoring the lawsuit, said the high court was right not to intervene.
Said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, “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. That’s unconstitutional, and it’s just plain wrong.
“All Americans ought to feel welcome at governmental meetings,” he continued. “The Constitution clearly forbids government to play favorites when it comes to religion.”
The record in the Joyner v. Forsyth County case indicates that 26 of the 33 invocations given from May 29, 2007, until Dec. 15, 2008, contained at least one reference to Jesus, Jesus Christ, Christ, Savior or the Trinity.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Janet Joyner and Constance Lynn Blackmon, two county residents and members of the Winston-Salem Chapter of Americans United. They are being represented by Americans United and the ACLU of North Carolina.
On July 29, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the county’s prayer practice is unconstitutional.
"Faith is as deeply important as it is deeply personal,” wrote Judge J. Harvey Wilkinson, “and the government should not appear to suggest that some faiths have it wrong and others got it right."
Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan said the appeals court came to the correct conclusion.
“America is extremely diverse when it comes to religious opinion and government must respect that diversity,” Khan said. “Government preference for one faith over others is a recipe for social discord.”