N Carolina county forced to pay $285k in taxpayers’ money to ACLU for opening meetings in Jesus’ name

A North Carolina county is is paying nearly $300,000 in taxpayer money to the American Civil Liberties Union for their “coercive” act of praying before meetings.

Rowan County commissioners paid $285,000 in legal fees to what the county chairman called the ACLU “bullies” after the Supreme Court refused to pick up the challenge to a 2013 lawsuit, the Salisbury Post reported.

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Just three county residents – Nan Lund, Liesa Montag-Siegel, and Robert Voelker – were behind the issue, complaining about the county’s opening prayers in Jesus’ name from 2007 to 2013. Asking residents to stand and join in those opening prayers was considered a “coercive” move by the ACLU

“We are obviously very unhappy with this and I think a few of us are, probably, physically sick to our stomach that we have to do this,” Chairman Greg Edds told the Salisbury Post. “But this is the risk that we took.”

A lower court panel of 15 judges decided 10-5 that the Rowan County meetings’ opening prayers were “unconstitutional” and the the ruling stood after the Supreme Court refused the case last June. On Monday, the commissioners voted to approve the payment of $285,000 in legal fees out of a savings fund as part of a court order issued Dec. 21.

“They make a living in going after other small communities in federal courts that are sympathetic to their leanings and they have almost unlimited funding that scares small communities to death,” Edds said. “So, communities just fold.”

“Free religious exercise can only remain if not influenced and directed by the hand of the state,” the ACLU stated, celebrating the outcome and quoting what the judge from the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017 wrote.

But the county’s commissioners are not sorry they took up the fight, with Edds noting that the commissioners “stood up for” elected officials of all faiths.

“This was about elected officials, regardless of their faith tradition, being able to exercise their First Amendment rights,” he said. “We’ve said over and over that, as people of different faiths earn their ability to take these seats, that we would respect their right to provide any prayer that they want to do.”

“It’s not a religious thing for me, it was more about freedom of speech. I just don’t think if you’re going to support and speak for the public that you should be told what you can and cannot say,” Commissioner Craig Pierce told WBTV. “$285,000, there are 140,000 citizens in Rowan County, that’s $2 per citizen to figure this out and that’s a whole lot cheaper than what we spent on a lot of the things that didn’t pan out.”

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