Forsyth County prayer controversy makes a comeback

Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags, via Tiago Pereira, Flickr

Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags, via Tiago Pereira, Flickr

In April 2007 (and in other past posts), I spoke on the public prayer controversy hitting the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners. The County, whose seat is my hometown of Winston-Salem, passed a policy allowing public prayer before its meetings, led by various clergy who signed up to lead the prayers. In that policy, the County Commissioners will not lead the prayers or censor them.

Regardless of the seemingly equal opportunity for all clergy laid out in the policy, the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina and the Winston-Salem chapter of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State filed suit against the county. The plaintiffs — Janet Joyner, Constance Lynn Blackmon and Osborne Mauck — are all members of the local Unitarian-Universalist congregation led by the Rev. Charlie Davis.

Both Janet and Charlie have been my longtime friends, mentors and confidants.

In that April 2007 post, I said:

I totally understand their thoughts, feelings and opinions on the matter, but I’m not yet totally convinced that the current policy is one which inhibits religion, excludes other religious faiths or one which “establishes” any particular faith over another. As it stands, the policy allows for all faith groups to be represented and each religious leader or leader of a faith institution has the ability to give his or her opening prayer un-censored by the Board.

I also gave my warning over insincere prayer (see Matthew 6:1-6).

I bring this topic up again because the controversy has recently been brought back into public discourse. Last week, County Commissioners discussed the on-going lawsuit out of concern over costs associated with county employees’ time spent gathering information for it.

In 2007, I didn’t know that the vociferously anti-gay Alliance Defense Fund would be the group defending the County against the lawsuit. I’m both disappointed and pissed that my hometown’s county government would ally itself with an organization that does not believe in the equality of all America’s citizens.

But, in a position that will likely disappoint many of my readers and progressive friends and colleagues, I still believe that prayer — to whichever deity — is a tradition and practice that is ingrained and important to our nation. And, it has been a part of our Republic since before we ever were one. Public prayer — more appropriately, legislative prayer — is not unconstitutional. At least, in my humble opinion. Isn’t America great? We get to disagree and still be friends!

Although I’d rather have someone else defending the County, I have to stand by my convictions. The policy passed by the County Commission is both fair and equitable. It does not censor members of the clergy and does not allow for discrimination against clergy of different faiths. In fact, I’d even bet the County would allow Rev. Charlie to offer a prayer, or moment of public reflection, that would be inclusive of all faiths. At the same time, the County might also allow a Muslim clergy member, or a Jewish Rabbi, or a preacher with anti-gay views. That’s what it means to live in our Republic. Equality really means equality, and freedom of speech gets offered to all. Like its Speech sister, Freedom of Religion is a two-way street.

Just this one time, I have to disagree with my mentors and friends. The lawsuit against the County is frivolous, and should be dismissed. Likewise, the County should be ashamed to be associating themselves with such a group as the Alliance Defense Fund; there are ways to defend themselves without turning to a group notorios for its positions on American equality.

4 Responses to “Forsyth County prayer controversy makes a comeback”
  1. Jarred says:

    The lawsuit is probably premature at best, and quite possibly frivolous. However, I hope you can understand if I’m skeptical of claims that the invitation to offer prayers are or will be truly inclusive. I’ll wait to see how the County Board of Commissions responds to the first Asatru godhi who requests to open a meeting with a prayer to Odin or a leader of the local Santeria community who requests to offer an invocation to Oshun. I’ll also wait to see how they respond to the public outcry that is likely to occur if they honor such a request.

  2. Matt says:

    Well… Let’s try it. What better way to test the policy!

  3. Jarred says:

    I agree with you there, Matt. That’s why I said that the lawsuit was premature at best. I would personally rather test the policy’s inclusiveness and then only challenge it in the courts if its demonstrated to be a failure.

  4. George says:

    This country was conceived and founded because of religious persecution. It seems that 225 years later, it begins again with two bitchy, pitiful, sorriful and insecure women.

    Far more importantly, their MINORITY sobs and moans AGAINST FREE SPEACH and RELIGIOUS FREEDOMS bring the rights of the MAJORITY into peril again.

    Those pilgrims who ventured to this country to attain those freedoms left their homes and life as they knew it just to attain it. They got it and this country IS and WAS THEIRS and ALL of ours. It belongs NOT to 2 or 2 million “uncomfortable” people. It belongs to the other 298 million!!!!

    Thus, if the MINORITY comes now to CONTROL THE MAJORITY (think tail wagging the dog!), something in this land is terribly wrong!

    I’m terribly sorry that they’re “offended”. If that insignificant situation is so troubling to them that they are offended, life is going to be real damned hard for them!!! Maybe George Soros can send them another check and then they will feel better.

    Tell those who are unhappy with 225 years of American successes and failures, to take their miserable butts SOMEPLACE ELSE that will tolerate such pitiful insolence! Tell THEM to pack their bags and move where they have little or no freedoms. That should make the sniveling fools quite happy.

    In the meantime, LEAVE CHRISTIANITY and all other faiths, as well as the MAJOIRTY OF AMERICAN PEOPLE alone!!!

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