On the Front Lines of the Culture Wars

On the Front Lines of the Culture Wars

Federal court bans “Jesus” from public prayers

North Carolina’s Forsyth County Board of Commissioners was wrong to allow opening prayers that end “in Jesus’ name,” a federal appeals court has ruled.

In a 2-1 decision, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., has ruled in favor of two county residents who complained that they were offended at hearing “in Jesus’ name” in a public prayer. 

Janet Joyner and Constance Blackmon sued after a local religious leader offered a prayer before a December 2007 commission meeting. In that prayer, he thanked God for allowing the birth of His son to forgive us for our sins and closed with the standard “in Jesus’ name,” which Christians are taught to do in the Gospel of John 14:13-14 by Jesus himself.


The federal decision upholds a lower court ruling.

“Legislative prayer must strive to be nondenominational so long as that is reasonably possible — it should send a signal of welcome rather than exclusion. It should not reject the tenets of other faiths in favor of just one,” Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III wrote in his ruling.

Judge Paul Niemeyer disagreed, writing in his dissent that Forsyth County allowed believers of any religious faith to give the opening prayer, negating the effect of having a prayer champion only one set of beliefs.

“I respectfully submit that we must maintain a sacred respect of each religion, and when a group of citizens comes together, as does the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners, and manifests that sacred respect — allowing the prayers of each to be spoken in the religion’s own voice — we must be glad to let it be,” Niemeyer wrote.


“The ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State argued (naturally) that sectarian prayers to any deity violate the First Amendment,” observed the Christian advocacy group Vision to America, which also noted:

The First Amendment offers no such prohibition since it only restricts “Congress” from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . .” There is no prohibition directed at the states and their counties. In fact, the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution at the insistent of the states in order to protect them from federal encroachment. Both the language of the First Amendment and example of the state constitutions support this claim.


Article XIX of North Carolina’s 1776 Constitution reads, “All men have a natural and unalienable right to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences.” Article XXXII is specifically Christian in stating the following qualifications for public officers in the state: “No person who shall deny the being of God, or the truth of the Protestant religion, or the divine authority of the Old or New Testaments, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State, shall be capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit in the civil department within this State.”

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment DoingTheRightThings

    I am so happy I stand for Jesus! In Jesus Name I pray for all of those who do not see fit to give thanks to Our Father and His Son! Oh yes the Saints will surely come marching in but I know from the sounds of this forum there will be some that will definitely feel the heat.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Randy

    No place in the Constitution do I find a “right to not be offended”. This is crazy and we are headed on a path straight to oblivion. People need to get over themselves.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment marcela

    I am constantly amazed at the way people who don’t follow Christ are angry with those who do. It is your choice. It is not me you offend by choosing against Christ. The scriptures tell us that those who believe in Christ are not condemned but those who don’t are already condemned. So you remain spiritually separated because you have not been reconciled to God through HIS own sacrifice, the Christ. Those who don’t accept Christ make their beliefs know EVERYDAY in our country. We, Christians, are citizens of this country, too, and thus, have the RIGHT to pray how WE choose. A person is NOT the job. And governing is a JOB, Participating in governing is a JOB. If you are the person praying, you should be FREE to pray in YOUR way. THAT IS FREEDOM. IF I don’t like who you pray aloud to, tough cookie it’s a free country and I will be praying in Jesus’ name while you pray in whoever’s name you choose. Your eternal destiny is in your hands from a choice perspective. Since you are a creation of God’s, spiritually alive or dead, I care about you (this means everyone–even the worst, deceived, soul) but I don’t take responsibility for you spiritual condition so I am not angry with you. However, when you try to take away MY freedoms because you don’t agree with ME, then we have a problem. Believe how you want but if I choose to ask God, through Jesus, to bless the event I am involved in then I have that RIGHT, so stop trying to keep the rights to yourself while you take mine away under the guise of “establishment”. May God shine His light into all of our minds. In Jesus name I ask this, Amen.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Michael Barranti

    “or the truth of the Protestant religion”

    United States Senator from North Carolina from 1852 to 1861 Judah P. Benjamin was an unrepentant and unconverted Jew and did just that. Not only did he not “violate the North Carolina Constitution”, He was appointed Attorney General and Secretary of War for the Confederacy after the state Seceded from the Union. He sure didn’t pray in Jesus’ Name.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Randy

    Kenneth – please quote the establishment clause for us.

    • Rob Kerby, Senior Editor

      As to the request for the Establishment Clause:

      “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” — and ignored, it would seem, is the next phrase: “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment paul

    Of all the things to be offended by, and so much so that money, time, and energy were spent to put an end to such offensive words!!! If the same energy, time and money were spent, for example, on our childrens’ education we just might have a NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND success!!! Seems like so many have so much idle time on their hands they don’t know what to do with it. I am offended, as a human, when other humans act in this manner. And we are created in the image of GOD!!!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment jackie

    why is it that it is o.k. to attack disparage disrespect and down right dog Christianity but if someone says two words opposing Islam, Judaism, Bhuddism or any other religion you are attacking their freedom of religion? I’m sick and tired of being told how i can serve my God. Freedom of religion was one of the driving forces in the establishment of colonial America. So you dont believe in Jesus or Jehovah. Do as I do when I hear about Allah or Shiva or Buddha or any other of the “gods” that I don’t believe in. Ignore it shut up and let people be. And as for the Atheists you most certainly have the right to not believe. Just as long as you don’t infringe on on our right to believe and or practice our religion. I have a question for you guys why does Christianity offend you so much but I never hear you complaining protesting or otherwise dogging other religions like you do Christianity. Why not? Thou does’t protest too much. PEACE

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Fred Sayin

    There are many people who are confusing freedom of religion which is in our Constituition with freedom of worship which is in the Russian Constitution.

    What’s the difference? Freedom of religion means you can worship your God and pray aloud and lead other people in prayer like Benny Hinn, Joseph Prince and Joel Osteen.

    Freedom of worship means a person can pray to their God anywhere in the country but can’t do it aloud or lead others in prayer. Thus Joel Osteen, Joseph Pince and Benny Hinn would not be allowed to have services in Russia.

    I’m wondering. Pretend the man leading that prayer said: “In the name of Allah” and my friend and I, both Christians, filed a complaint about this. Would the ACLU be willing to stand with my friend and I or would they be too scared of any possible consequences from the radical Moslems? How would both courts have ruled if I brought a case against someone concluding the prayer in the “name of Allah?”

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment R

    Apparently, you and Vision to America think that everyone in America is Christian. In addition, apparently neither you nor Vision to America do not understand that Article XIX of North Carolina’s 1776 Constitution did not make it into the First Amendment.

    As a Jew, I am offended on both counts. Perhaps you would do well to read George Washington’s letter to the Jews of Providence, R.I.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment The Rev. Dr. Francis E. Jeffery, CH, Lt. Col., USAF (ret)

    As I read the complaint of the prayer in the name of Jeus, would the same complaint be made if I prayed in the Name of Satan or the Devil???????
    The Constitution permits that freedom of religious expression.

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