Georgia joins defense of prayer before meetings

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr is joining the defense of a Michigan county accused of improperly allowing Christian prayer before meetings.

Carr said his office will join 20 states in supporting Jackson County before the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. A three-judge panel of the circuit ruled in favor of local resident Peter Bormuth, who in 2013 challenged the county commission’s practice of offering an exclusively Christian prayer before meetings.

The full 6th Circuit will hear the county’s newest appeal.

“The tradition of legislative prayer dates back to our country’s founding,” Carr said in a statement. “The amicus brief shows that lawmaker-led prayer, at both the state and local level, has been an integral part of that longstanding tradition, and we have a strong interest in preserving this form of liberty.”

In 2005, seven Cobb residents filed a federal lawsuit seeking to halt that practice at board of commissioners and planning commission meetings. But the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta allowed the prayers to continue. Its 2008 decision noted that Cobb allowed religious leaders of all faiths to offer prayers at meetings.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that a New York town's practice of offering religious prayer did not violate the First Amendment. But Bormuth claims Jackson County commissioners made a conscious decision to exclude any other religion from its prayers and reprimands those who do not stand for the prayer.