• Rowan Co. prayer case ends with citizens paying more than $280,000 in legal fees to ACLU

    By: Tina Terry


    ROWAN COUNTY, N.C. - The six-year fight over prayer at Rowan County Commission meetings is finally complete.

    Rowan County has agreed to pay more than $280,000 in legal fees to the American Civil Liberties Union after losing a battle that nearly reached the Supreme Court.

    [PAST COVERAGE: US Appeals court says prayer at Rowan County meetings unconstitutional]

    Rowan County has about 140,000 citizens, and this lawsuit will cost them a little more than $2 per person.

    Some leaders said that is a small price to pay fighting for the will of the people.

    In 2013, the ACLU sued Rowan County on behalf of some citizens who said they felt excluded by the Christian prayers said by some commissioners.

    Rowan County Prayer Timeline:

    • 2012: ACLU sent letter to Rowan County Commissioners requesting them to stop prayer at meetings
    • 2013: ACLU files lawsuit on behalf of three residents
    • 2014: U.S. Supreme Court ruled clergy-led prayers at public meetings are constitutional
    • 2015: Federal judge found Rowan County's prayer practice unconstitutional
    • 2016: Appeals court upheld the commissioner's right to pray
    • 2017: U.S. Appeals court rules prayer at meeting unconstitutional
    • 2018: Supreme Court declines to take Rowan County prayer case 

    The ACLU said the prayers violated the constitution, but commissioners defended their actions saying, their prayers were about their personal beliefs, not public office.

    Citizens began to flood commission meetings, asking leaders to fight the lawsuit.

    After several appeals, commissioners lost the case.

    Officials tried appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court, but judges chose not to hear the case.

    [RELATED: Supreme Court won't take Rowan County prayer case]

    This week the county ended two months of negotiations over legal fees and agreed to pay $285,000, a much lower price than originally requested.

    Leaders said they did not have to pay their own legal fees, because that money was donated.

    Regarding the prayer case, one commissioner told Channel 9’s Tina Terry that it’s just a matter of time before a case like theirs ends up before the nation’s highest court.

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