By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
WILMINGTON — Once again freedom of religion is under attack in North Carolina as an atheist organization is threatening to sue unless officials “cease beginning public Wilmington City Council meetings with prayers.” The American Humanist Association is incensed that invocations used prior to a number of meetings over the past year have mentioned “Jesus,” quoted the Bible or have been “traditional Christian prayers.”
Citing the Joyner v. Forsyth County case in which the 4th District Court of Appeals ruled against the use of sectarian prayers, the Appignani Humanist Legal Center claimed in a July 11 letter to the council that “including prayers as part of the legislative process creates an unconstitutionally hostile environment for those who have no desire to encounter officially sanctioned religion…”
The Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, lamented the fallout created by the erroneous Appeals Court ruling and pointed to our nation’s earliest days.
“The First Continental Congress opened on Sept. 7, 1774, with a prayer that said, in part, ‘O Lord our Heavenly Father, high and mighty King of kings, and Lord of lords … look down in mercy, we beseech Thee, on these our American States … All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Savior,'” he said. “To now believe that prayers, simply because they appeal to a specific deity, are somehow unconstitutional, is beyond all reason. This is truly an attack on people of faith, an effort to silence any and all religious expression.”
In its defense, the Wilmington City Council pointed out that it welcomes people of all faiths to volunteer to give the invocation and that it asks those who do so to keep their prayers non-sectarian. But City Attorney Bill Wolak told the media that the officials can’t control what people say once they begin to pray.
“That’s the whole point,” Dr. Creech said. “It’s not a violation of the First Amendment to invite someone to pray before a meeting, but interfering with what the person says when he or she does so is a violation of freedom of religion. People should be free to pray however their conscience dictates. Otherwise, government scripts the prayer, which is exactly what the First Amendment was meant to prohibit.”
But William J. Burgess, director of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, told the media that “there’s really no need for prayers before the meeting.”
Dr. Creech had predicted in March that the Supreme Court’s decision to let stand the 4th Court of Appeals ruling in the Forsyth County case would lead to the “repression of religion and its positive influences on our culture.”
“Just as expected, we are seeing the ascent of atheistic dogmas that threaten to reduce our country to a fraction of the free and proud nation it once was,” he said. “Each time these threats are allowed to silence prayer, we all lose a bit of our freedom and our nation as a whole takes a step closer to practical atheism.”