According to a report by the Associated Press, elected officials practice of opening meetings in Rowan County with Christian prayer and inviting audience members to join is unconstitutional a federal appeals court ruled Friday.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that found Rowan County commissioners prayer practice to be "unconstitutionally coercive."

The question in the Rowan County case was that the prayers were given by the commissioners themselves and whether their invitation for the audience to join them in prayer is coercive.

The 4th Circuit ruled that because the commissioners were the exclusive prayer givers, their practice "falls well outside the more inclusive, ministered-oriented practice" endorsed by the Supreme Court.

"The prayer practice served to identify the government with Christianity and risked conveying to citizens of minority faiths a message of exclusion," the majority opinion said.

The full 4th Circuit heard the case in March after a divided three-judge panel said Rowan County commissioners had a constitutional right to open meetings with prayers as long as they don't pressure observers to participate.

This closely watched case is believed to likely be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court for an ultimate decision.


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