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Religious Liberty

The ACLU works to guarantee that all people are free to follow and practice their faith -- or no faith at all -- without government influence or interference and that the government remains completely neutral regarding matters of religion and belief. 

RALEIGH – The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation is asking whether Governor Pat McCrory’s office is using any taxpayer dollars or other public resources to promote religion at an upcoming prayer rally in Charlotte. In a public records request filed yesterday, the civil liberties group asked for information regarding the governor’s participation in The Response: North Carolina on September 26 at the Charlotte Convention Center. The event’s website says the focus of the rally is “unashamedly Christian” and “the only name that will be lifted up will be the name of Jesus Christ.” Gov. McCrory is being advertised as the event’s main speaker.

“North Carolinians deserve to know whether Governor McCrory is spending their tax dollars to promote religion,” said Chris Brook, Legal Director for the ACLU-NC Legal Foundation. “Elected officials have every right to practice and discuss their faith, but they shouldn’t use taxpayer resources to promote their own religious views over others.”

Read the ACLU-NC Legal Foundation’s public records request to Gov. McCrory’s office here.

SALISBURY, N.C. – The Rowan County Board of Commissioners today voted to appeal a federal court ruling that found their practice of opening public meetings with commissioner-led prayers specific to one religion to be coercive, discriminatory, and in violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The case, Lund et al. v. Rowan County, will be appealed the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

“We are disappointed that the commissioners have decided to continue defending this discriminatory and unconstitutional policy,” said Chris Brook, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Carolina Legal Foundation, which filed a lawsuit challenging the commissioners’ practice in 2013 on behalf of three Rowan County residents. “Rowan County residents should be able to attend public meetings without being coerced into participating in a government-sponsored prayer or fearing that they may be discriminated against for having different beliefs than the commissioners. We will continue to make our arguments in court in order to ensure that public meetings in Rowan County strive to be welcoming to all members of the community.”

On May 4, U.S. District Judge James Beaty ruled that the commissioners violated the Constitution when they coerced public participation in prayers that overwhelmingly advanced beliefs specific to one religion. Between 2007 and 2013, more than 97 percent of the prayers delivered by commissioners before public meetings were specific to Christianity.

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – A federal court today ruled that the Rowan County Board of Commissioners violated the Constitution when they coerced public participation in prayers that overwhelmingly advanced beliefs specific to one religion. Between 2007 and 2013, more than 97 percent of the prayers delivered by commissioners before public meetings were specific to one religion, Christianity.

“When Plaintiffs wish to advocate for local issues in front of the Board, they should not be faced with the choice between staying seated and unobservant, or acquiescing to the prayer practice of the Board,” wrote U.S. District Judge James Beaty of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. “[…]The Board’s practice fails to be nondiscriminatory, entangles government with religion, and over time, establishes a pattern of prayers that tends to advance the Christian faith of the elected Commissioners at the expense of any religious affiliation unrepresented by the majority.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation and national ACLU Program on the Freedom of Religion and Belief filed a lawsuit challenging the Commissioners’ coercive prayer practice in March 2013 on behalf of Rowan County residents Nan Lund, Robert Voelker, and Liesa Montag-Siegel. In June 2013, the court preliminarily enjoined the County Commissioners from opening their meetings with coercive, sectarian prayer. In his ruling today, Beaty made that injunction permanent, prohibiting the Commissioners from returning to their former practice of opening their meetings with a request that the public join them in prayers that advanced one faith.

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WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled in favor of closely held corporations that sought an exemption to a federal law requiring employers to provide insurance coverage for contraception. The owners of the plaintiff companies – Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma-based craft supply store chain, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Pennsylvania furniture company – cited religious objections to contraception as a reason not to comply with the law.

The American Civil Liberties Union, religious organizations, other civil rights and women’s health groups, business leaders, and members of Congress filed friend-of-the-court briefs arguing that the companies’ owners cannot impose their personal religious beliefs on employees to withhold coverage for health services with which they disagree.

"This is a deeply troubling decision. For the first time, the highest court in the country has said that business owners can use their religious beliefs to deny their employees a benefit that they are guaranteed by law," said Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the ACLU. "Religious freedom is a fundamental right, but that freedom does not include the right to impose beliefs on others. In its ruling today, the Court simply got it wrong."

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RALEIGH – The North Carolina House of Representatives today passed S.B. 370, “Respect for Student Prayer/Religious Liberty,” which purports to clarify the rights of public school students to freely engage in religious activities and the proper role of school personnel during such expression. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Carolina opposes the bill because existing law already protects the right of religious expression for students and S.B. 370 could create confusion and serve to ostracize students of different beliefs.

“The right of students to voluntarily express and practice their faith in public schools is already well-established and protected by the First Amendment,” said Sarah Preston, ACLU-NC Policy Director. “Some of this bill’s unnecessary and confusing language could wrongly encourage public school personnel to takes sides in student-led religious activity, making students with different beliefs feel excluded or ostracized not only by their classmates, but also by their teachers and schools.” 

The bill has already passed the state Senate but was modified by the House and now must return to the Senate for concurrence before being sent to Gov. Pat McCrory for his signature.

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