My turn, Nan Lund: County doubled down on losing fight

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 20, 2019

More than five years ago, two other Rowan County residents and I challenged the invocation practice of our county commissioners because we believed that local government meetings should be a place that welcomes everyone equally, regardless of their religious beliefs.

For years, commissioners opened meetings by asking the public to stand and join them in sectarian prayers that did not represent the beliefs of many county residents.

This put those of us who shared different beliefs but wanted to participate in our local government in a truly difficult position —we either had to join in prayers that did not reflect our beliefs or worry that our representatives might be biased against us if we left the room or did not stand.

Some of our fellow residents who questioned the policy were even booed at meetings.

In a nation where the government is supposed to treat everyone equally and not take sides in religious issues, we believed county commissioners were not only violating the Constitution but bullying residents with different religious beliefs.

So we turned to the American Civil Liberties Union, which told us they received more complaints from residents about invocations in Rowan County than anywhere else in the state.

We asked commissioners to change their practice, but they refused. Commissioners then told residents that they would not have to bear the cost of a lawsuit — a promise we now know was a lie.

As expected, courts agreed that the commissioners violated the Constitution. We are so glad the county has finally turned the page on this chapter.

It should never have taken county officials so long to do the right thing. They could have embraced a more inclusive and welcoming invocation practice years ago.

Instead, they doubled down and spent years fighting a losing court battle in order to defend their images, right to bully residents of different beliefs and force their religious views on others.

Our commissioners knew from day one they were risking a hefty bill that taxpayers would ultimately have to foot. That’s exactly what happened. We brought this case to make Rowan County more welcoming to people of all beliefs.

The true “bullies” in this story are the government officials who fought to maintain a discriminatory practice — and wasted taxpayer dollars in the process. I, too, would have preferred to have this money go to the betterment of the community, but the commissioners did not give us that choice.

Nan Lund was the lead plaintiff in Rowan County’s prayer lawsuit.