By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League of North Carolina
FAYETTEVILLE — It is said that “all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for enough good men to do nothing.” Thankfully, Arch Cox and his fellow chaplains did not stand by and let evil triumph in the form of new public meeting prayer rules issued in Cumberland County.
A retired captain and one of six volunteer chaplains for the Fayetteville Fire Department, Cox, like others, was asked to give the invocation at a city function, but told not to pray in Jesus’ name. He respectfully declined as did other chaplains, refusing to pray at the meetings unless they were free to pray as God commands.
“I was furious,” Cox said. “This was the United States of America last time I checked. How dare they tell me not to pray in the name of Jesus. That’s what this country was founded and built on.”
The restrictions, calling for “non-sectarian and neutral” prayers and citing a lawsuit filed by the ACLU in Forsyth County and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling in a Great Falls, S.C., case, were issued by legal counsel in Fayetteville and in Cumberland County in the spring of 2007. Attorney Karen M. McDonald warned city officials against “frequent invoking of the name of Jesus (or any other deity) in opening prayer.”
Because they took a stand for their First Amendment rights, Cox and another chaplain were asked to serve on an advisory board to give input on how to address the issue. Cox said one of his concerns was how chaplains could counsel firefighters and pray with them without speaking of Jesus Christ.
“He is our strength and the very faith we represent,” he wrote in a letter seeking advice from the American Family Association. “How do we look them in the eye and tell them to have faith, be strong and pray if we give in to such nonsense?”
Fortunately, when news of the prayer limitations was reported in the media, city officials changed their tune. In fact, Fayetteville Mayor Tony Chavonne said McDonald’s memo was an advisory, not a directive and that the City Council had not established any policy limiting prayer. He told the Fayetteville News and Observer that anyone in city government is free to mention any deity at city-sponsored events.
Unlike Fayetteville, many cities across America are following advice like McDonald’s, officially banning prayers in Jesus name for fear of being sued.
A Christian Law Association report points out that the United States Supreme Court has never addressed the issue of whether a government body can legally allow prayers in Jesus’ name, yet legislators across the country are “falsely being told that such prayers violate the First Amendment Establishment Clause.”
“When legislatures or private groups censor prayers in Jesus’ name, pastors and other Christians who believe their prayers should be offered in Jesus’ name are treated like second-class citizens and are prohibited from participating in this important American tradition,” the CLA report says. “It seems to us that this is exactly the sort of government intrusion into religion that the First Amendment seeks to avoid.”
The CLA also points out that there is no question that the founding fathers intended for government participants to be able to pray as they wished. In fact, the first prayer offered at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia was offered in Jesus name.
Cox says he will do no less. “It is my faith,” he said. “Who are they to tell me to deny my faith, my savior and my redeemer?”