NORTH CAROLINA — After losing a lawsuit over Christian prayer at the start of meetings, Rowan County commissioners will have to pay the ACLU $285,000 to cover legal fees, the Salisbury Post reports.
The ACLU represented Rowan County residents Nan Lund, Liesa Montag-Siegel and Robert Voelker in their lawsuit targeting the commissioners’ prayer practices that spanned from 2007 to 2013.
Last year, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal offered by the commissioners that challenged an earlier decision by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals that said their prayer practices were a violation of the separation between church and state. The commissioners were originally sued in 2013 by the three ACLU-represented county residents who said the county was using “coercive” practices when opening meetings with Christian prayers.
More than 97% of the prayers delivered by Rowan County commissioners before public meetings were specifically Christian. The commissioners had instructed those present to stand and join in the prayer, leading many residents to feel coerced and pressured into doing so.
— ACLU of North Carolina (@ACLU_NC) June 28, 2018
“The prayer practice served to identify the government with Christianity and risked conveying to citizens of minority faiths a message of exclusion,” the 4th Circuit ruled in June of 2017.
The $285K payment will be the only expense incurred by the commissioners throughout the saga of the lawsuit since they were represented by the Christian law firm “National Center for Life and Liberty” for free.
The fee will come out of the county’s partial savings fund.
“We are obviously very unhappy with this and I think a few of us are, probably, physically sick to our stomach that we have to do this, but this is the risk that we took,” County Commissioners Chairman Greg Edds told the Salisbury Post.
Edds went on to call the ACLU “bullies.”
“They make a living in going after other small communities in federal courts that are sympathetic to their leanings and they have almost unlimited funding that scares small communities to death,” Edds said. “So, communities just fold.”
Speaking to the Salisbury Post, the ACLU said that it’s satisfied with the outcome.
“As Judge (J. Harvie) Wilkinson wrote in this case, ‘Free religious exercise can only remain free if not influenced and directed by the hand of the state,’” the ACLU said.