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Trustee encouraged by prayer ruling
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PICKENS, S.C. (AP) — A Pickens County school board member says he’s encouraged by a federal appeals court ruling allowing a county governing board to open meetings with prayer.

Pickens school board member Alex Saitta says the ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of appeals means board members could offer prayers without being censored, The Greenville News.

The court in Richmond, Virginia, voted 2-1 that the Rowen County, North Carolina, Board of Commissioners can give prayers as members see fit. The court said the Rowan County board’s prayers do not coerce participation by those of other faiths and is therefore legal.

Previous rulings have said local governing bodies can invite religious leaders to pray before meetings, as long as the prayers do not favor one religion.

Saitta has argued against the Pickens board’s current policy, which says only “non-sectarian” prayers may be given by board members. Members of the public are free to offer prayers however they wish during a public forum portion of the meetings.

“Clearly the board policy disallowing me to pray in Jesus’ name when it is my turn is unconstitutional,” Saitta said, based on Monday’s new ruling in the North Carolina case.

The Pickens school district’s attorney, Bick Halligan, said Monday he had not read the new ruling and couldn’t comment on it.

Halligan said the board will be considering its prayer policy “sometime in the future and I will meet and talk with them when they do.”

Pickens County’s current policy was implemented in 2013 after the Freedom from Religion Foundation, a national nonprofit that promotes separation of church and state, sent a letter to the board describing its practice of allowing students to deliver the invocation as “a serious constitutional violation.” The student prayers were often offered in the name of Jesus and reflected a Christian theological perspective.