Public voices opinion on prayer at commission meeting

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 2, 2013

SALISBURY — Just moments after Rowan Commissioner Chad Mitchell capped a routine meeting invocation with a shout-out to Jesus, 17-year-old Emma Labovitz asked county leaders to stop using sectarian prayer at their meetings.
“I’m not against prayer,” she said, with a shaky yet determined voice during the public comment part of the board’s meeting. “I’m not against people — I believe there’s a time and a place for everything.”
Labovitz’ dissent echoed the continued debate on the commissioners’ use of sectarian prayer that sparked a lawsuit from the ACLU and three local people last month and brought dozens to the podium in support of their beliefs two weeks ago.
Only four spoke at the Monday afternoon meeting, but the speakers couldn’t be more divided.
Labovitz, who is Jewish, was the last speaker following Salisbury residents Pete Prunkl, Larry Wright and William McCubbins, who says he is also Jewish.
McCubbins and Wright are avid supporters of the commissioners’ decision to continue praying in Jesus’ name despite the American Civil Liberties Union’s lawsuit filed in federal court.
McCubbins read scripture during his three-minute speech.
“I will be delivering the word of God to you people from this podium regardless of what the court says,” he said.
Wright, a frequent speaker, shared two anecdotes about times he has fought and won against the odds. He continued to advocate fighting the lawsuit.
Prunkl began by saying he supports the three Rowan residents named in the lawsuit — Nan Lund, Liesa Montag-Siegel and Robert Voelker.
He cited statistics from the Association of Religious Data Archives and argued that the majority of Rowan residents are “unclaimed,” in that they don’t associate with a particular religion,according to the site.
“I urge you gentlemen to draft and implement a policy that you open our government meetings with a moment of silence,” Prunkl said. “That one single act will forcibly demonstrate that you represent all of the people in this county, the claimed and the unclaimed.”
Commissioners did not discuss the lawsuit or respond to the citizens’ comments during the brief meeting.

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.