A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals split 2-1 in deciding that the Rowan County
commission had a constitutional right to open meetings with prayers. The prayers included almost exclusively Christian references and the commission's five members invited audience members to stand and participate.
The court — which decides constitutional disputes involving Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina — said prayers opening meetings of legislative bodies are as old as the country and aren't limited to neutral religious statements or references to a generic God. As long as the board's five members didn't proselytize or disparage religious beliefs, they were constitutionally protected, the court ruled.
"Not only are the legislators themselves the intended 'congregation' for legislative prayer, but the practice carries special meaning to the thousands of state and local legislators who are citizen representatives," Judge G. Steven Agee wrote in the court's opinion.