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

NC Prayer Ruling Stands, Thomas and Gorsuch Dissent

The prayers of the Rowan County commissioners have not been answered. After losing their appeal before an en banc Fourth Circuit, the county commissioners petitioned the Supreme Court for review. Last week, the High Court rejected the petition. Curiously, a dissent was authored by Justice Thomas and signed on by Justice Gorsuch.

The Fourth Circuit ruled that the county commissioners had favored one religion over others, and found that the big problem was that the commissioners would lead prayers themselves, as opposed to inviting local faith leaders and community members to do so. The High Court did not provide an explanation as to why it rejected the matter, and reviewing Justice Thomas's dissent doesn't provide one either.

Dissenting Denial of Cert.

Justice Thomas's dissent focuses on his opinion that Cert. should have been granted to resolve the split between the Fourth and Sixth Circuits regarding public official led prayer. Justice Thomas's dissent, actually comes right out and says it, expressing strongly that he believes the Fourth Circuit's en banc decision was flawed and that he not only would accept Cert., he would overrule it if he had the chance.

He expressed this rather succinctly: "For as long as this country has had legislative prayer, legislators have led it." And in a footnote, he states: "In addition to having little basis in history, the Fourth Circuit's decision has little basis in logic." So far, no response has been issued by the Fourth Circuit.

What's Next in Rowan County?

As has been reported, Rowan County now invites local clergy and other members of the public to lead the prayers. This will likely be the status quo until SCOTUS decides to take this issue up again.

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