By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
SALISBURY — The American Civil Liberties Union and its threats to sue government bodies who open their meetings with prayer to a specific deity don’t seem to have frightened Rowan County Commissioners, four of whom said this week they have no intention of altering the prayers they lift unashamedly in the name of Jesus.
In fact, Chairman Chad Mitchell started Monday’s board meeting, which was packed with hundreds of prayer supporters, with an appeal to the “Father” in “Jesus name.” His freedom to pray as he felt led was proclaimed loudly and clearly by some two dozen members of the public who encouraged the board not to back down from the ACLU.
Rowan is among some 25 to 30 government bodies across the state in the organization’s crosshairs in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to let stand the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in a Forsyth County case that effectively outlawed so-called “sectarian” prayers at public meetings. Katy Parker, legal director for the ACLU’s Tar Heel chapter, told the media that Rowan was the first government to say that they’re “going to completely disregard the law.”
“The court’s interpretation of the First Amendment is so contrary to the true meaning of our Constitution. These commissioners, who are exercising the freedom of religion guaranteed them by our nation’s founders are standing firm and they are an inspiration to people everywhere,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “We commend their resolve and urge those residents who came out to sing and pray and spur them on to keep up their encouragement for what may result in a legal battle ahead.”
While Rowan resident Chris Crowell suggested the board consider a moment of silence or a more general kind of prayer that didn’t “advance or promote your religion,” the vast majority of speakers said commissioners should pray according to their beliefs.
“If they tell county commissioners they can’t pray, soon they’re going to be in my church telling me I can’t pray in the name of Jesus,” resident Terry Brown told the crowd. Others said they hoped the issue would serve to wake up the church and spur revival.
As they spoke inside, the overflow crowd in the lobby of the Rowan County Administrative Office began singing hymns.
Commissioner Jim Sides let it be known that he had no plans of changing his approach to prayer.
“I will continue to pray in Jesus name. I volunteer to be the first to go to jail for this cause,” he said.
The ACLU has requested an answer from Rowan commissioners about the matter by March 5, which is also the date of the next county board meeting.