Blog Tag - ACLU of North Carolina Mon, 22 May 2017 13:18:22 -0400 en-gb Full Appeals Court Considers ACLU Challenge to Coercive County Prayer Practice

By Mike Meno
ACLU-NC Communications Director

All members of the public – regardless of their personal religious beliefs – should feel welcome when they attend meetings of their local government that discuss issues affecting the community. But for years in Rowan County, North Carolina, that was not the case. The local county commissioners routinely coerced members of the public to participate in sectarian prayers – and in doing so, they violated the Constitution.

That was the central argument ACLU of North Carolina Legal Director Chris Brook made to all 15 judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on March 22, when the full court sat en banc for arguments in a lawsuit the ACLU-NC filed four years ago on behalf of three Rowan County residents.

From 2007 to 2013, the Rowan County Commissioners regularly opened meetings by directing members of the public to stand and join them in prayers that overwhelmingly advanced beliefs specific to one religion, Christianity, with messages such as “the only way to salvation is through Jesus Christ” and “I pray the citizens of Rowan County will love you Lord, and put you first, Lord.”

This practice put residents with different beliefs in an untenable situation: participate in a sectarian prayer that went against their deeply held beliefs or fear being discriminated against by those public officials when they didn’t.

During the March 22 arguments in Richmond, Virginia, several judges expressed skepticism that such a practice was compatible with the First Amendment’s protection of religious liberty for all.

“The meetings over time express the view that Christianity is the preferred religion,” said Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson, who wrote a dissenting opinion last year arguing that “the message actually delivered in this case was not one of welcome but of exclusion.”

“The combination of the role of the commissioners, their instructions to the audience, their invocation of a single faith, and the local governmental setting ... threatens to blur the line between church and state to a degree unimaginable,” Wilkinson wrote in his October opinion.  

Judge Barbara Milano Keenan asked the attorneys for Rowan County how the practice didn’t discriminate against religious minorities who give public comment at meetings. She gave the example of a local synagogue asking the commissioners for a zoning easement.

If I am a Jew, Keenan asked, “and I am being told that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation, and I do not believe in Jesus Christ … how can I not be implicitly coerced by the nature of the prayers and the identity of the prayer giver? … How can I feel as a citizen of that county … that I have any chance before the elected body of fair and equal consideration?”

Judge Wilkinson said he worried that such divisive practices would create dangerous disputes within communities, and he noted that in a recent Rowan County election, prayer at public meetings was used as a campaign issue. “It bothers me that we are on our way to make a willingness to pray to be a test for public office,” he said.

When Rowan County’s attorneys argued that legislative prayer has a long tradition in the United States, Judge James Wynn said he was offended by the concept that tradition alone could justify a practice. “Certainly if that was the case, we’d still have slavery,” he said.

From the beginning, Nan Lund, Bob Voelker, and Liesa Montag-Siegel, the three plaintiffs in the case, have been clear about their goals. “We in Rowan County have to be welcoming to people of all beliefs,” explained Bob on the courthouse steps after the arguments. “When I was there [at the commissioner meetings], I felt excluded and singled out because I didn’t agree with the prayers delivered.”

That, argued Brook, is exactly why the Fourth Circuit should uphold a lower court decision that found Rowan County’s practice unconstitutional. The appeals court ruling – which is not expected for several months – could have a wide-ranging impact on invocation practices in North Carolina and the other four states that fall under the Fourth Circuit’s jurisdiction.

Pictured: Plaintiffs Bob Voelker, Nan Lund, and Liesa Montag-Siegel with ACLU staff outside the courthouse March 22.

mmeno [AT] acluofnc [DOT] org (Mike Meno) Religious Liberty Sat, 25 Mar 2017 12:14:35 -0400
HB2 Makes Me Feel Less Welcome, But The Fight Against It Gives Me Hope

This op-ed originally appeared on

by Angela Gilmore

Six years ago, I moved to North Carolina to accept a one-year teaching position at Elon University School of Law in Greensboro. My wife, also named Angela, and I, had just made the final repair on our home in Florida, where we planned to live for the rest of our lives. But during my year in North Carolina, I fell in love with the state, and I began looking for a job that would allow Angela and me to relocate here permanently.

Fortunately, North Carolina Central University School of Law was looking for someone to teach courses that I taught and they extended an offer to me to join the faculty. The pull of North Carolina was so strong that Angela left a teaching job that she loved in Miami, and I tendered my resignation to the law school where I had taught for almost 20 years.

In North Carolina, and particularly in Durham, we found more than a home; we found a community. We live in the cul de sac of a small neighborhood and we’re a part of that community. We’re friends with our neighbors, we go to their kids’ birthday parties, and we watch each others’ homes when someone is on vacation. Our neighborhood is exactly the kind of neighborhood we hoped to find.  We are not the only African American family, nor are we the only LGBT family.

We also feel a part of the larger Durham community. We spend our weekends walking, jogging or bike riding on the American Tobacco Trail. We attend performances at the Durham Performing Arts Center, and we visit restaurants that have helped Durham earn its reputation as one of the best food towns in the United States. We’ve also given time to our community by volunteering at the local Food Bank, LGBTQ Center and several elementary schools.

Being “women of a certain age,” my wife and I have started to think about retirement. In fact, we’ve been visiting small cities in North Carolina where we think we might want to live.

But then the General Assembly and Governor McCrory passed House Bill 2, the sweeping and discriminatory law that limits legal protections for LGBT people like Angela and me. A lot of attention has – rightfully – been given to how HB2 attacks the rights, identities, and dignity of our transgender neighbors. But the same law also restricts the ability of local governments to pass measures that would protect all LGBT people from discrimination. For example, Charlotte recently passed an ordinance that protected LGBT people from discrimination in public accommodations. But HB2 blocked that ordinance, and now when my wife and I visit Charlotte, we could be exposed to discrimination in restaurants, hotels, taxis and other public accommodations simply because we are two married women.

This law has made us feel less welcome and less safe in North Carolina. HB2 is personal. It is a message to us from the legislature and Gov. McCrory that we are not welcome here and do not deserve equal protection under the law. It’s also a message to Durham, our new home, not to do anything that will make us feel welcome and safe.

North Carolina is our home. And when someone, anyone, threatens your home, you have to respond. Five days after HB2 was passed, I was honored to sign my name to a federal lawsuit challenging HB2, and stand behind a podium alongside other courageous North Carolinians who were joining me as plaintiffs in the case filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal.

The outpouring of support I received after joining the lawsuit, and actions of thousands of North Carolinians who have spoken against HB2 since, have given me hope for the future of our state.

When I see North Carolinians marching and organizing against HB2, it gives me hope. When I see businesses across the state speaking out against this hateful legislation, it gives me hope. When I see elected officials in my own city and others passing resolutions against HB2, it gives me hope.

The extremist lawmakers who passed HB2 may have wanted to make my wife and me feel less welcome, but the widespread and growing response from thousands of our fellow North Carolinians opposed to this law reminds us that this state is much more than the ugliest actions of state officials.

Together, I hope that we can end this discriminatory law and ensure that North Carolina is safe and welcoming for all people, no matter who they are or who they love.

Angela Gilmore is a professor at North Carolina Central University School of Law and a plaintiff in Carcano et al. v. McCrory, a federal lawsuit challenging HB2.


mmeno [AT] acluofnc [DOT] org (Mike Meno) LGBT Rights Wed, 25 May 2016 10:03:47 -0400
June 5: Meet Karen Anderson, New Executive Director of the ACLU-NC

The Board of Directors of the ACLU of North Carolina today announced that it has hired Karen Anderson as our organization's new Executive Director.

A passionate civil libertarian with a strong leadership background, Karen is joining us from New Hampshire, where she has spent the last 15 years as Director of Administration and Finance for the Office of the New Hampshire Public Defender. In that role, she had primary responsibility for all corporate, financial, and business matters, including strategic planning, human resources and more.

Karen is also no stranger to the ACLU: she currently serves as President of the Board of the ACLU of New Hampshire and previously served as that affiliate's representative on the National ACLU Board.

Karen will officially begin as Executive Director of the ACLU of North Carolina on July 25, but our members and supporters will have an opportunity to meet her in person at our annual membership meeting in just a few weeks. Please join us!

ACLU-NC Annual Membership Meeting
Introducing Executive Director Karen Anderson

Sunday, June 5, 3-4 p.m.
NC Advocates for Justice
1312 Annapolis Drive, Raleigh, NC 27608
RSVP today!

Karen's wide range of experience includes work as a human resources consultant in Denver, at various human resources positions at the University of Denver, and as a litigator with Gray & Hahn, PC. She previously worked in Rockford, Illinois, as Associate Director of Prarie Legal Services and in Washington, DC, as a litigation associate with Nixon, Hargraves, Devans & Doyle (now Nixon Peabody).

We are so pleased to have Karen join our dedicated and hardworking team in North Carolina.

Please join us in welcoming her to the new position on Sunday, June 5!

mmeno [AT] acluofnc [DOT] org (Mike Meno) Uncategorized Mon, 23 May 2016 16:37:20 -0400
ACLU-NC Files Brief Opposing Judicial Retention Referendum Law

By Jen Wolfe, ACLU-NC Legal Fellow

This month the North Carolina Supreme Court will hear arguments that ask whether a change to the election process for state Supreme Court justices is constitutional. Last year the North Carolina General Assembly passed a law that would replace contested elections of incumbent Supreme Court justices with a “FOR/AGAINST” retention referendum, in which the incumbent justice runs unopposed. The law was set to take effect this election cycle.

While legislators have known and recognized for decades that a constitutional amendment is necessary to change the method for selecting Supreme Court justices, in the past legislators have been unable to garner the three-fifths vote needed in both houses to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot. In 2015 the legislature passed this bill into law without seeking a constitutional amendment.

A lawsuit has challenged the constitutionality of this law, arguing a retention referendum is not an election under the North Carolina Constitution, which requires Supreme Court justices “be elected.” The lawsuit does not question the wisdom of retention referendums, but it argues that a retention referendum for Supreme Court justices is unconstitutional absent a constitutional amendment. A three-judge panel agreed and declared the law unconstitutional. The State Board of Elections has appealed the decision to the North Carolina Supreme Court. Arguments in the case are scheduled for April 13.

To protect constitutional safeguards to the electoral process and guard the public's confidence in judicial elections, the ACLU-NC joined with Civitas Institute, Center for Law and Freedom to file a friend-of-the-court brief opposing the North Carolina law and asking the Court to declare the law unconstitutional. As we explain in the amici brief, if Supreme Court justices may be elected by “FOR/AGAINST” referendum without a constitutional amendment, then so may every other public officer named in the Constitution, including Governor, Attorney General and Secretary of State.

Read the ACLU-NC's brief in Faires, et. al. v. State Board of Elections, et. al. here.



mmeno [AT] acluofnc [DOT] org (Mike Meno) Legal News Mon, 04 Apr 2016 14:29:10 -0400