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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in First Amendment

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.

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RICHMOND, VA – In a divided 2-1 ruling, a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit today reversed a lower court decision that found the commissioners of Rowan County, North Carolina, violated the Constitution when they coerced public participation in prayers that overwhelmingly advanced beliefs specific to one religion.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which represents three Rowan County residents in a challenge to the commissioners’ prayer policy, says it will ask the Fourth Circuit to review the ruling en banc, in which the case would be heard by all 15 judges on the Fourth Circuit. In a dissenting opinion today, Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson wrote that “the message actually delivered in this case was not one of welcome but of exclusion” and that “it is the combination of the role of the commissioners, their instructions to the audience, their invocation of a single faith, and the local governmental setting that threatens to blur the line between church and state to a degree unimaginable in [the Supreme Court’s decision in] Town of Greece.”

“Today’s ruling is out of step with the First Amendment’s protection of religious liberty for all, and we will ask the full appellate court to review this decision,” said Chris Brook, Legal Director for the ACLU of North Carolina. “Rowan County residents should be able to attend local government meetings without being coerced to participate in a sectarian prayer or worry that the commissioners may discriminate against them if they do not. As Judge Wilkinson wrote in his dissent today, the facts in this case are a ‘conceptual world apart’ from those the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in Greece, New York, and that is why we will seek en banc review.”

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You Have The Right to Film Police

Posted on in Legal News

By Molly Rivera, Communications Associate

Here’s what you need to know.

The nationally publicized video recordings of police officers killing Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota are timely and tragic reminders of the power that people carrying smart phones have to document police misconduct.

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RICHMOND, VA – In a 2-1 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit today reversed its earlier ruling that a 2011 North Carolina law allowing specialty license plates that say “Choose Life,” but not an alternative plate with a message supporting reproductive freedom, was unconstitutional. In a ruling today, the court now says North Carolina is under no obligation to offer a pro-choice plate, and it sent the case back to the district court to enter judgement for the state.

The North Carolina law had been challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Carolina on behalf of pro-choice drivers.

“It’s very disappointing that North Carolina can now deny drivers on one side of this contentious issue an equal ability to express their views,” said Sarah Preston, acting Executive Director of the ACLU of North Carolina. “Regardless of the court’s ruling, the General Assembly should finally do the right thing and allow citizens on both sides of this controversial issue to purchase specialty license plates supporting their views.”

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