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Public prayer losing ground in North Carolina?

buncombecountysealCounty commissioners in the sleepy, liberal town of Asheville, N.C., have made a “consensus” decision to end public prayer at their meetings.

The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners are set to bring the topic up for official discussion on Jan. 5. They’ll likely vote to stop opening board meetings with prayer. The move comes after a federal magistrate recommended a similar public prayer policy in Winston-Salem, N.C., violated the the First Amendment.

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Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags, via Tiago Pereira, Flickr

Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags, via Tiago Pereira, Flickr

In April 2007 (and in other past posts), I spoke on the public prayer controversy hitting the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners. The County, whose seat is my hometown of Winston-Salem, passed a policy allowing public prayer before its meetings, led by various clergy who signed up to lead the prayers. In that policy, the County Commissioners will not lead the prayers or censor them.

Regardless of the seemingly equal opportunity for all clergy laid out in the policy, the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina and the Winston-Salem chapter of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State filed suit against the county. The plaintiffs — Janet Joyner, Constance Lynn Blackmon and Osborne Mauck — are all members of the local Unitarian-Universalist congregation led by the Rev. Charlie Davis.

Both Janet and Charlie have been my longtime friends, mentors and confidants.

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