The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation sent a letter to Attorney General Roy Cooper on Thursday to outline the group's concerns about sectarian prayers used to open sessions of the General Assembly.
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of of Appeals that said sectarian prayers in a government setting violate the First Amendment's separation of church and state. The case originated from a lawsuit the ACLU filed against the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners.
The ACLU says several legislators and members of the community have expressed concern about the frequent practice of convening sessions of the House and Senate with a sectarian prayer.
“We recommend that you adopt a policy to ensure that the (General Assembly) halts the practice of opening sessions with sectarian invocations,” Katy Parker, state legal director of the ACLU, wrote in the letter to Cooper. "The (General Assembly) is still permitted to open its sessions with a prayer, so long as the prayer is nonsectarian.”
Until last year, lawmakers and staffers invited to give the opening prayers were scrupulous to avoid sectarian references. Now, however, prayers in both chambers often conclude with “in Jesus' name."