By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — The North Carolina House of Representatives will take a close look at its guest chaplain policy after a Winston-Salem pastor says he was asked not to pray in Jesus’ name.
Ron Baity, pastor of Berean Baptist Church and president of Return America, told the media that after reviewing a copy of the prayer he intended to deliver, the House Clerk asked him on May 31 not to include the mention of Jesus because it might be offensive to some. He told her that he was highly offended when asked not to pray in Jesus name because doing so is an integral part of his faith.
Baity was allowed to offer his prayer that day without any interference but was also informed his services would not be required for the next three days. He had initially been invited to give the opening convocation each day through June 3.
The pastor held a press conference July 8 about the issue and delivered a letter to Speaker of the House Joe Hackney and the clerk demanding an apology and another opportunity to offer the opening prayer. His letter, written by attorneys from the Christian Law Association of Seminole, Fla., asked for a response within 10 days.
A joint statement released to the media by Speaker Joe Hackney (D-Orange) and House Minority Leader Paul Stam (R-Wake) said it has been the practice of the N.C. House of Representatives for many years “to request, but not require, that our guest chaplains deliver a nonsectarian prayer.”
“This is intended as a show of respect for all the religions practiced by the members of the House and the people we represent,” the statement read. “In this instance, we allowed Pastor Baity to deliver his prayer, without interference, even though it was sectarian in nature.”
Hackney and Stam said the chaplain guidelines will be reviewed to ensure that the House abides by “applicable constitutional procedures” and that the results of the review will be made public when it is complete.
Earlier this week, Rep. Stam said that his own view of the matter is that government officials should not direct the content of the prayers of others.
“This is consistent with the free exercise of religion protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 13 of North Carolina’s Constitution which concludes ‘no human authority shall, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience,'” Stam said. “It does not constitute an establishment of religion.”
He went on to say that he was pleased that the Speaker of the House invited him to participate in the review of House procedures concerning guest chaplains.
“People should have the right to pray according to the dictates of their conscience,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “And that means that a Christian should be allowed to pray in Jesus’ name, a Muslim should be able to pray in the name of Allah, a Buddhist in the name of Buddha – however the person chooses to pray when invited to pray in the public arena. It’s not religious liberty whenever any prayer is censored. Neither is it consistent with religious liberty to even suggest someone amend their prayer for a particular audience.”
Creech said he believes Ron Baity to be a great man of God and he shares his passion for religious liberty. But he also added that he felt he knew both Hackney and Stam as men of integrity who would do their best to rightly apply the principles of the Constitution in clarifying the House position on opening prayer.