Jan 17, 2012 8:15 PM by Andy Koen
El Paso County Commissioners say they have no plans to stop saying prayers before each meeting despite a decision Tuesday by the Supreme Court of the United States to reject an appeal from a North Carolina board of county commissioners who were found to have violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution on strikingly similar circumstances.
In January of 2011, the board changed their official meeting structure to begin every session with a prayer, as opposed to the previous practice of monthly invocations. Chairwoman, Commissioner Amy Lathen says she is unmoved by the high court's decision.
"As long as I'm chair and I have the support of the colleagues on this board, we will have prayer at every meeting," Lathen said.
Commissioner Peggy Littleton proposed the change and even gave the invocation herself on four occasions last year. She says the prayers don't violate the Constitution because representatives of all faiths are welcome to speak.
"We've had rabbis, we've had Christians, we've had Catholics, we've had all sorts of people come," Littleton said. "It's been very inclusive and we welcome anybody who wants to come and give the invocation and no, it's not going to change our decision."
News 5 listened to over 40 invocations from meetings last year and found direct references to Jesus or other Christian beliefs in more than half of them. In Forsyth County, N.C. v. Joyner, a federal appeals court determined the board had violated the Establishment Clause by passively endorsing Christianity because 26 of 33 invocations given between 2007 and 2008 contained references to Jesus Christ, the Trinity or other Christian symbols or names.
County Attorney William Louis doesn't believe the court's decision directly bans prayers at public meetings.
"My office is going to look at the lower court opinion in more detail and see if there's anything we need to do at El Paso County from a policy and procedures stand point to make sure we do not cross that Constitutional line."