NEW YORK -- The American Jewish Congress says a North Carolina judge's practice of opening each day's court session with a call for prayer violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
In a brief filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, the Jewish organization challenges Mecklenburg County District Judge H. William Constangy's practice of delivering a self-composed prayer before each morning court session.
The North Carolina chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and five Charlotte lawyers have filed suit against the judge, who is being defended by the Rutherford Institute.
Referring to the argument that the judge uses the prayer to create order in the court, the American Jewish Congress brief says that "most judges do not enter their courtroom and immediately 'invite' those present to participate with them in seeking the Lord's blessing. Yet most courtrooms are orderly and dignified despite the absence of religious activity." The brief also notes that "Judge Constangy himself commences his afternoon sessions without prayer, even though those sessions generally contain a different calendar."
The American Jewish Congress also says that by opening his morning session with prayer, the judge conveys a message to everyone in the courtroom that religion is preferred over non-religion.
It says that this may put those who choose not to participate at a disadvantage. The judge said he does not order anyone in the court to join him in prayer.