Court refuses to hear Great Falls appeal on use of "Jesus Christ" in council prayers - - Columbia, South Carolina |

Court refuses to hear Great Falls appeal on use of "Jesus Christ" in council prayers

(Columbia-AP) Nov. 4, 2004 - The Great Falls Town Council has suffered another setback in its appeal of a court that prohibits the group from opening meetings with a prayer that mentions Jesus Christ.

A three-judge panel of the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals in July ruled such prayers were an unconstitutional government advancement of one religion.

The entire court refused to hear the town's appeal this week after the Great Falls Town Council agreed unanimously to file a petition for rehearing and rehearing en banc, which would have their appeal heard by the entire court. South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster filed an Amicus brief to the full US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in support of Great Falls.

Town lawyer Brian Gibbons says Great Falls officials have 90 days to appeal to the U-S Supreme Court. The town has indicated it wants to continue the fight and has McMaster's support.

Darla Kaye Wynne, a Wiccan high priestess, sued the town in 2001 after its leaders refused to open meetings only with nonsectarian prayers or to allow members of different faiths to lead the prayers.

In August of 2004 a US district judge agreed and issued an order prohibiting council from using the “name of a specific deity associated with any one specific faith or belief in prayers given at town council meetings.” Great Falls hasn't used the name of Jesus Christ in prayers since then.

Andrew Siegel, an assistant professor of law at the University of South Carolina School of Law, says unless the decision is reviewed or altered that it is the constitutional rule for the region covered by the court. The ruling applies to all government meetings in South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland.

Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, says the ruling means other councils should stop giving sectarian prayers or face expensive lawsuits they are likely to lose.

posted 11:10am by Chris Rees

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