A fight few people want

  • Posted: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 9:31 a.m.

By a 5-0 vote, Rowan County commissioners decided Monday to fight the lawsuit filed by three citizens and the ACLU over commissioners’ use of sectarian prayers at board meetings.

Here we go.

It’s not surprising that the five Christian men on the board of commissioners want to pray to their Lord Jesus Christ. No one expects them to do otherwise in their private lives. But commissioners see no difference between those private actions and, as elected officials who represent the entire county, opening a public meeting in the same way. They gave clear signals over the past year that they felt this way. And so they will engage the county in a legal fight few people want.

Fayetteville attorney Bryce Neier with Alliance Defending Freedom told commissioners what they wanted to hear. The alliance helped Forsyth County fight a similar suit — unsuccessfully — and he seemed to urge Rowan to fight, too, saying it would be a tough case to litigate but not a hopeless one. No surprise there, either. Private organizations stepped forward to pay the legal bills for Forsyth’s five-year fight. Beyond that, the court decision also required the county to pay the plaintiff’s court bill, which was more than $248,000.

But this is not about money, even though it’s objectionable for commissioners to use county money to fight their personal religious battles. The suit is about recognizing that we are a community of many denominations, faiths and creeds. All people are created equal and all faiths deserve respect. A moment of silence or nonsectarian prayer would show respect. So would praying privately and individually before the meetings. But commissioners insist that citizens attending their meetings hear commissioners’ personal brand of prayer.

Commissioners have made their decision and believe they’re going to “fight the good fight,” as attorney Neier put it. People who want to help them foot the bill should step forward. The Rev. Bill Godair’s $10,000 check is a good start. Use that first.

The ACLU first asked that commissioners stop using sectarian prayer in their meetings last year. (Prayer itself is not a problem, but prayer that gives the impression government endorses one faith over another runs contrary to the Constitution.) The public response last year was even more passionate than it was Monday.

But passion will have little to do with the legal proceedings that result from the county board’s decision. The suit will quietly make its way through the courts, argued by attorneys and considered by judges — a legal exercise. People on both sides have a right to press their case, plaintiffs and commissioners. As the chaplain of the U.S. Senate recently said in a nonsectarian prayer, “May what they declare with their lips be proven with their deeds.”

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