Rowan Board Takes Prayer Behind Closed Doors
By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
August 7, 2013
SALISBURY — Pre-meeting prayer continues to be a controversial issue in Rowan County where commissioners on Monday decided to take their invocation behind closed doors as a result of a judicial injunction.
“We believe this injunction is unconstitutional and violates hundreds of years of religious liberty and free expression in America,” Board Chairman Jim Sides read from a prepared statement at the start of the 3 p.m. meeting. “However, as constitutional officers of this County, while we disagree with this injunction, we have chosen to voluntarily comply with it while the United States Supreme Court hears a similar legislative prayer case. That Supreme Court decision will set the standard for legislative prayer for the entire nation. Our attorneys have filed an amicus brief in that case to vigorously defend our prayer practice.”
The board, the target of a lawsuit filed in March by the American Civil Liberties Union, then took a three-minute recess in another room for an invocation led by Commissioner Jon Barber.
The ACLU had claimed the board’s Christian prayers offended three local residents, and in late July, U.S. District Court Judge James Beaty ordered the county to stop offering prayers that favor one religion while the lawsuit progresses.
But even as the board prayed privately, the power of the Lord was still proclaimed openly in the board room when Rowan County resident Jason Josey stood and prayed in Jesus’ name.
“If our government is going to tell them they can’t pray, I’m going to pray for them,” Josey told the media. “The letter wasn’t to me — I’m not bound by the same letter that they received from the judge.”
In anticipation of the injunction, the board changed its policy in April to have a chaplain deliver a prayer that avoids having “sectarian references become too frequent.” The policy further states that “no invocation should proselytize or advance any faith or disparage the religious faith or non-religious views of others.” It would also allow commissioners to deliver their own non-sectarian prayers.
“These judicial orders meant to squelch Christian prayer in the public square should send us to our knees for our nation on a daily basis,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “We appreciate residents taking the initiative to cry out in Jesus’ name at the meeting even as commissioners have been told they can’t pray as their consciences dictate. We can only hope the Supreme Court will uphold Americans’ freedom of religion and put an end to the ACLU’s bullying tactics once and for all.”
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear a similar case involving prayer in public meetings in October.