By Hunter Hines
Christian Action League
September 24, 2015
STATESVILLE – Approximately 100 people gathered at the Government Center for the Iredell County Board of Commissioners Meeting last Tuesday, September 15th. They came to address a matter not on the agenda – the Commissioner’s decision to supplant an opening prayer at their meetings with a moment of silence.
County Commissioners had made the decision at their regular meeting in August. Because some who led in the opening prayer were using the name of “Jesus”, Iredell County Attorney Bill Pope had advised the County Board to discontinue the observance of opening prayer. Pope was concerned about a recent ruling from a federal judge regarding the constitutionality of a similar practice at Rowan County Board of Commissioners meetings.
Like many legislative bodies in the United States, the Board of Commissioners in Rowan County, N.C., had opened its meetings with an invocation for years. In 2013, however, three plaintiffs sued in federal district court to enjoin the board’s prayer practice.
Although the U.S. Supreme Court held just last year, in Town of Greece v. Galloway, that a town does not create an impermissible establishment of religion by opening its board meetings with faith-specific prayer, the district court struck down Rowan County’s prayer practice because the commissioners themselves delivered the prayers. Rowan County has appealed to the Fourth Circuit.
But the citizens of Iredell County at the meeting made it clear that they wanted the prayers reinstated regardless of threats of litigation from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union.
During the moment of silence recognized at the meeting, Pastor Keith Bowman of Bright Light Baptist Church in Statesville loudly blurted out a public prayer that he ended “in Jesus’ name.” His impromptu prayer received an enthusiastic “amen” by most in attendance.
David Childress, Pastor of Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Olin, was the first speaker among a number of speakers who protested the current policy during the comment period. Childress complained there were other voices to be heard besides the ACLU. When he completed his remarks Childress then launched into his own prayer, also offered in “Jesus’ name.”
At the conclusion of his prayer, Childress approached the commissioners delivering a petition with more than 650 resident signatures, calling for the restoration of prayer at the opening of the commissioners meetings.
Eddie Guy, another speaker during the comment period, explained that he was of the Lutheran faith. Guy’s church, Mount Herman Lutheran of Statesville, pulled away recently from their synod because of its support for same-sex marriage.
Guy told a story about trains carrying Jews to the concentration camps and ovens that went past a Lutheran church. He said that during worship services the congregation would sing louder to drown out the screams of the people on the trains. But eventually, he said, “There was only silence.”
Guy maintained the church had been silent too long and that Christianity was under assault. Christians, he said, needed to speak up in days of great moral crisis like the present.
Bryan Shoemaker, a former member of the Iredell County School Board, who also spoke during the comment period, shared responsibility with Raymond Burnette and Mark Cash of the Iredell County GOP for coordinating the presence of many of the concerned citizens at the meeting. In remarks made to the Christian Action League, Shoemaker echoed the need for churches to speak up.
“We’ve got to stand and make our voices heard. The church and its leaders must stop being silent. People sit in the pews and listen to a sermon every Sunday, but that’s it. Very few take what they’ve heard and go into their communities to make a difference for Christ’s sake,” said Shoemaker. “We send money all over the world for various Christian causes and that’s good, but when we neglect what’s at our own front door step that’s bad. Serving the Lord requires sacrifice of our time and resources. I’m happy about the 100 people who showed up for the county commissioners meeting, but there ought to have been a 1000 people there.”
Shoemaker said he thought the County Board of Commissioners was sympathetic with the position expressed by so many against the moment of silence policy.
According to the Statesville Record and Landmark, “Commissioner Ken Robertson and other commissioners said the decision to pull the prayer was not done lightly nor free of emotion.”
Board Chairman James Mallory said the decision was based largely on the commissioner’s “fiduciary responsibility” to tax payers. He said the board was concerned that they might get into fighting the matter in court, which could cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees.”
Dr. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said he fully supports and deeply respects the courage displayed by the pastors and other citizens who attended the commissioners meeting and protested the current policy.
He said, “Board members must not capitulate to political bullies like the ACLU. If we are not free to express our faith in the public arena, then we are not really free. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides an unalienable right that no man or government should be allowed to deny. If freedom of religion is not safe, then no other liberty is safe. The primary purpose of government is to protect our God-given rights.”
Board members ended the meeting with a promise to carefully consider options to the current practice of the moment of silence, as well as seek further legal counsel.