National Roundup

Appeals court: Board’s prayer practice is unconstitutional

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Elected officials’ practice of opening meetings in North Carolina with Christian prayer and inviting audience members to join is unconstitutional, a federal appeals court ruled Friday in a closely watched case likely headed for the U.S. Supreme Court.

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 Supreme Court already has ruled that it’s appropriate for local clergy to deliver predominantly Christian prayers and town meetings in New York. The question in the Rowan County case was whether it makes a difference 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.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on behalf of non-Christians who say the prayers made them feel excluded and sent the message that the board favored a particular religion. The prayers included almost exclusively Christian references and the commission’s five members invited audience members to stand and participate.

The ACLU noted that Rowan County commissioners directed the public to participate, with phrases such as “please pray with me,” and used language that could be seen as proselytizing, like “I pray that the citizens of Rowan County will love you Lord.”

Attorneys for Rowan County said commissioners don’t force anyone to participate, noting that people can leave the room or stay seated during the prayer. Since the district court’s decision deeming the prayers unconstitutional, the commission has invited a volunteer chaplain to lead prayer.

Nan Lund, one of the Rowan County residents who brought the case, said in March that residents who don’t agree with the prayers fear they may not be treated fairly before the board if they don’t participate.

Dallas mural honoring fallen officers violates city codes

DALLAS (AP) — A mural erected a month ago to honor five law enforcement officers who died in a sniper attack in downtown Dallas must be taken down or altered because it violates city code, according to city inspectors.

The 8-foot (2.4-meter) fence on which the mural was painted was built without a permit for metal siding and the fence blocks visibility at a nearby four-way intersection, according to a violation notice issued May 25.

As soon as he received the notice, Cesar Rodriguez, who operates the Last Call Lounge where the mural is erected, applied for a permit to build the fence and use the metal siding and hired workers to move the fence back 3 feet (1 meter). Rodriguez said the initial project cost about $15,000, and that the alterations cost a further $2,100.

The Dallas Department of Code Compliance confirmed Thursday that a citation was issued, but declined to comment. Inspectors have yet to assess whether the alterations meet compliance standards.

The painting pays tribute to the five law enforcement officers who were shot to death during an attack at a Black Lives Matter rally in Dallas on July 7, 2016. Flowers, notes and other tokens have been left at the mural regularly since it was unveiled Monday, Rodriguez said.

Supreme Court justice to speak in Chicago

CHICAGO (AP) — Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is set to appear on stage with a federal appellate judge in Chicago.

Ginsburg and Ann Claire Williams will hold a conversation at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre on Sept. 11. It’s part of a Roosevelt University program focusing on themes of law, social justice and the American Dream.

Ginsburg was appointed to the nation’s highest court in 1993 by then-President Bill Clinton. The 84-year-old is releasing an exercise book later this year called “The RBG Workout.” It’ll features illustrations of Ginsburg’s own workout routine.

Clinton nominated Williams to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago in 1999, when she became the first African-American on that court. The 67-year-old recently assumed senior status, opening a vacancy but letting her continue with a reduced caseload.

North Carolina
Prosecutors:  man harassed women over 10-year period

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina man is accused of committing “egregious” sexual harassment against women who either rented or wanted to rent or buy a house from him for at least 13 years.

The U.S. Justice Department announced Thursday that it filed a lawsuit against Robert N. Hatfield, who rents, sells and finances homes in Wilkes County. A news release said Hatfield made unwelcome sexual comments and advances, and engaged in unwanted sexual touching and groping.

The lawsuit also said Hatfield offered housing benefits in exchange for sex acts and took or threatened to take action against women who objected. Hatfield denied the allegations in an interview with WSOC-TV in Charlotte.

3rd wrongful death suit filed against Washoe County Sheriff

RENO, Nev. (AP) — The family of a man who died after being bound by authorities in a hogtied position has filed a wrongful death lawsuit.

It is the third wrongful death claim against the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office in the past two years.

The Reno Gazette-Journal reported Thursday that the lawsuit was filed by the father of Thomas Purdy, who died in October 2015.

Purdy stopped breathing in a cell at the Washoe County jail after a struggle with Peppermill Resort Hotel security guards and Reno police officers, who arrested him on trespassing charges. Purdy continued to struggle against deputies who tried to remove his restraints once he arrived at the jail.

An investigation by Sparks police found no criminal wrongdoing.


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