County adopts prayer policy in case injunction is granted

  • Posted: Thursday, April 18, 2013 12:57 a.m.

SALISBURY — Rowan County commissioners have adopted a policy that will keep prayer in county meetings if a federal judge were to issue an injunction against commissioners’ consistently Christian prayers.

But county leaders hope the policy isn’t enacted.

The measure would allow an approved chaplain to give nonsectarian invocations at the start of commissioners’ meetings. Rowan commissioners formulated the notice a little more than a month after the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit on behalf of three Rowan residents claiming the practice of commissioners opening meetings with sectarian prayer is unconstitutional.

The ACLU is seeking an injunction from a federal judge that would require commissioners to immediately halt those invocations.

“What it amounts to, by having this policy available to us if the injunction comes through, then this would still allow us to have prayer during our meetings because we do have the policy in effect,” Vice Chairman Craig Pierce said Wednesday.

The policy asks that the chaplain deliver a prayer that avoids having “sectarian references become too frequent and no invocation should proselytize or advance any faith or disparage the religious faith or non-religious views of others.”

The policy names Pastor Michael Taylor, a volunteer chaplain for the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, as the initial chaplain and details how subsequent chaplains would be selected by a vote of the commissioners.

The prayer policy was added as a consent agenda item to Monday’s county commission meeting. The Post requested the policy Tuesday and it was forwarded to the Post Wednesday morning.

Members of the commission would not be able to give the invocation, nor would they be involved in reviewing the invocation’s content, the policy said.

A U.S. District Court judge granted the county’s request for an extension to respond to the preliminary injunction motion Tuesday.

Commissioners now have until May 1 to file a response to the injunction motion.

Pierce said the policy shouldn’t be looked at as a conciliatory move.

“I would rather have some type of ability to have prayer than to have nothing,” he said.

Commission Chairman Jim Sides did not return calls from the Post.

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.

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