U.S. Fourth Circuit - The FindLaw 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Will the Supreme Court Hear the Rowan County Prayer Case?

What may prove to be, at the very least, a legally fascinating case, will be sent up to SCOTUS for review. The Rowan County prayer case involves a county council that starts each one of its public sessions with a prayer.

The lawsuit was brought by three Rowan county citizens who do not think prayer should be part of the public meetings. Initially, a federal court ruled the prayer was unconstitutional, but a three judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and reversed. But after a rehearing en banc, the appellate court changed their minds and agreed with the district court.

Not accepting of its fate, the Rowan County Commission announced this week that it has decided to file an appeal to the Supreme Court.

What's This Case About?

This case, at its core, is about the separation of church and state. The county commissioners would take turns starting the public meetings with a prayer. They also would ask the audience to stand during the prayer. Typically, the prayers were always Christian prayers, and even occasionally veered into overt proselytization. As the appellate court explains, the case requires a careful, fact intensive, review to ensure that the establishment clause is not violated. Unfortunately for the county commissioners, there is only one more court with the power to save their prayers.

Will SCOTUS Review the Case?

Whether SCOTUS will accept the case is a question that many legal scholars will be watching. In 2014, a similar matter was decided by the High Court in favor of the municipality. In the Fourth Circuit opinion, a dissenting justice states his belief that the 2014 precedent was misapplied in this case. The split 10 to 5 vote of the en banc Fourth Circuit may be enough of a split to entice SCOTUS, or not.

However, if SCOTUS denies review, then the guidance provided by the Rowan County prayer case may become all the more important.

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