Who will pray at Monday’s county board meeting?
Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 4, 2013
Rowan County commissioners will gather Monday for the first time since a federal judge ordered them to stop opening their meetings with sectarian prayers.
An agenda for the meeting, which starts at 3 p.m., includes an invocation. The commissioner slated to deliver that prayer would not say Friday what he intends to do.
In an email to the Post, Commissioner Jon Barber said only that out of respect for his Christian values, “I will always pray in the name of Jesus.”
And even though delivering such a prayer at a county board meeting might get him in hot water with the court, Barber said he’s not worried about consequences.
“I have already won this war through my salvation in Jesus Christ,” he said. “God will lead me through this persecution and I will be His instrument.”
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in March aiming to stop the overwhelmingly Christian prayers that open Rowan Board of Commissioners meetings.
Three local residents are named as plaintiffs in that lawsuit. Nancy Lund, Liesa Montag-Siegel and Robert Voelker say the prayers violate their constitutional rights and make them feel marginalized at meetings.
On July 23, U.S. District Court Judge James A. Beaty Jr. granted their request for an injunction and ordered the county to cease the sectarian prayers while the lawsuit makes its way through the courts.
Anticipating that possibility, the board adopted a policy in April that would have a chaplain deliver an invocation instead of commissioners.
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.”
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.
But last week, commissioners Vice Chairman Craig Pierce said commissioners can also choose to deliver their own non-sectarian prayer.
Whether a prayer is delivered and what kind of prayer it is will be the biggest question at the meeting. Among business items on the agenda, the board will consider a retirement incentive program; the Fair Association’s request for a permit to hold an event at the fairgrounds Aug. 31 and Sept. 1; a requested family subdivision waiver to develop a lot; budget amendments; and board appointments.