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As many opinions as there are people on prayer issue

SALISBURY — While county commissioners
say they’re getting overwhelming support
for the way they pray, not everyone is
joining in the praise.
Even some Christian leaders come closer
to agreeing with the American Civil Liberties
Union (ACLU) than with the commissioners.
In its call to commissioners to stop opening
meetings with religion-specific prayers,
the ACLU of North Carolina says it has heard
complaints from “religious minorities” in
Rowan County.
Those are people like Dan Stach, a Salisbury
resident, who want to know that their
voices are being heard even if they don’t
share their elected officials’ faith.
“At these meetings, they are … making decisions
based on what’s best for Rowan County
residents,” Stach said. “If they are allowing
a prayer in Jesus’ name, I’m wondering
how many decisions are made based on their
religion instead.”
Stach is an agnostic, which to him means
that he doesn’t believe in God but doesn’t
know for a fact that God doesn’t exist.
He isn’t offended by hearing the name of
See OPINIONS, 2A
Jesus, he said, or prayers specific
to any religion.
“I don’t think anyone needs
to stop praying,” he said. “It
just doesn’t belong in government
matters.”
Rabbi Andrew Ettin, of
Temple Israel in Salisbury,
said a group prayer made in
Jesus’ name immediately excludes
him as a Jewish person.
“It is a religious sentiment
I can respect … but it certainly
is one that excludes me
from participating,” Ettin
said.
That’s a problem, he said,
when the people giving the
prayer are supposed to represent
and listen to people of different
religions.
The ACLU has said that according
to a court ruling in
Forsyth County, governmentsponsored
prayer that is specific
to one religion is unconstitutional.
Ettin, who lives in Forsyth
County, said he closely followed
that court case and supports
the ACLU’s position.
He said he has no problem
giving a prayer in general
terms, but if it “seems to people
like an inauthentic prayer,
then don’t do it.”
Stach and Ettin both said
they’d find a moment of silence
acceptable.
Several pastors, many
from Baptist or nondenominational
churches, spoke at the
county board Feb. 20 meeting
in passionate support of sectarian
prayer.
But in telephone interviews
last week, several others said
prayer in public settings
should be allowed but should
not exclude those of other religions.
The Rev. Whayne Hougland,
a rector at St. Luke’s
Episcopal Church in Salisbury,
said government-sanctioned
prayer should honor all
people and doesn’t have to include
Jesus’ name.
“If you’re praying as a public
servant, then part of being
a servant is to honor those
whom you’re serving,” Hougland
said.
The Rev. John Putnam, a
pastor at Sacred Heart
Catholic Church in Salisbury,
said he doesn’t believe simply
praying in the name of God is
“in any way rejecting Christ.”
According to Christian
teaching, he said, God the father
cannot be separated from
Jesus Christ the son or from
the Holy Spirit.
A pastor at Thyatira Presbyterian
Church in Mount
Ulla said she is “appalled” by
the defiance and combativeness
she’s heard in reaction to
the ACLU’s request.
“I think Jesus taught us to
love each other and to respect
each other,” said the Rev. Sandra
Kern.
Kern said Christians also
are told to respect and obey
their leaders in government.
She mentioned to Matthew
6:5-6, a Bible passage that
warns against being “like the
hypocrites” who pray “that
they may be seen by men.” It
refers to prayer, Kern said, as
“a private practice between
you and God.”
Kern concludes her own
prayers at public functions
with, “in your holy name,
amen.”
“It’s not a compromise of
my beliefs,” Kern said. “It allows
people the freedom to
pray as they are called to
pray.”
But the pastor of First
United Methodist Church in
Salisbury, where Commissioner
Jon Barber is a member,
said those giving the invocation
should have that same
freedom.
“If it had to be a generic
prayer, that would be OK,”
said the Rev. Stephen Haines.
“But in my heart of hearts, I
think whatever tradition a
person comes from, they
should be allowed

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