Court Affirms Judge Can’t Begin Daily Court Sessions with Prayer

Jewish organizations have welcomed a federal appellate court’s unanimous decision to bar a North Carolina judge from opening each day’s court session with a prayer.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond on Tuesday upheld a ruling by the federal district court in Charlotte, N.C., that by allowing such prayers, Judge William Constangy violated the First Amendment to the Constitution.

A lawsuit against the Greensboro trial judge was brought by several defense attorneys who objected to Constangy opening each day’s session with a non-sectarian prayer that he composed. Constangy argued that he was doing nothing different than the chaplains who open sessions of the U.S. Congress with a prayer each day.

The appeal court’s decision “is a welcome affirmation of first principles,” said Marc Stern, co-director of the American Jewish Congress Commission on Law and Social Action.

AJCongress filed friend-of-the court briefs in support of the suit in both the district and appeals courts.

“The Constitution not only separates church and state, but also imposes a special obligation on judges to administer justice without creating the appearance of religious partiality,” Stern said.

The decision was also welcomed by Steve Freeman, legal director of the Anti-Defamation League, which filed a separate brief against the judge when the case reached the appeals court.

NEXT STORY