E X C L U S I V E
“If he wants to pray to a tree, that’s fine. But I don’t let that matter to my job.” (Lincoln County Board Chairman Carrol Mitchem)
By Alec Rooney
Out of concern for religious freedom … one county in North Carolina has banned all prayers.
You read that right: In Lincoln County, N.C., religious freedom now translates to nobody having the freedom to pray out loud at the opening of a meeting.
It all went down thanks to a local Muslim activist who arrived to play the part of the victim, and thanks to a group of elected commissioners who granted that victim status and agreed to abridge everyone’s rights.
Until recently, Christian prayers had been said at Lincoln County Commission meetings to focus board members on their duties, their shared community standards, and for guidance from a higher power that still guides them. That’s what prayer does.
However, a judge in nearby Rowan County ruled that opening public meetings with exclusively Christian prayers violates the Constitution (a decision now under appeal). That prompted the Lincoln County board to adopt a policy of allowing people of any religious faith to give invocations if they wished.
The Muslim activist was quick to take advantage of the situation, and lined up an appearance at an upcoming meeting.
But Board Chairman Carrol Mitchem took exception, saying publicly that he would “not listen to a Muslim pray.”
Mitchem kept his word. When Muslim activist Duston Barto read a chapter of the Quran to open the Aug. 3 commission meeting, Chairman Mitchem’s chair was empty.
While local media described Mitchem as having “walked out” of the meeting, Mitchem himself says he simply did not join the meeting until the Muslim invocation was over.
“I did not walk out,” he told Christian Action Network (CAN) in a recent interview. “I just didn’t walk in.”
According to CAN President Martin Mawyer, it is common for Muslim activists to insert themselves in situations where they have no other business than to just to play the victim, or simply poke local Christians in the eye.
In this case, thanks to squeamish fellow commissioners (and one commissioner in particular) the Muslim activist got what he wanted:
No one can pray at all.
But actually everyone — Christian and non-Christian alike — suffered a small but significant loss, says Mawyer.
“Even though the Muslim’s prayer and the board chairman’s refusal to hear it are both expressions of religious freedom, the Lincoln County Commission took it much further than it needed to go,” he said. “Now nobody gets to pray.”
Mawyer continued: “I’m sick and tired of our leaders eliminating God from nearly every public place in America in the name of ‘tolerance’ for other religions, usually Islam. We are a Christian nation, or at least we were, founded on Christian principles, and we should proudly place Christianity above all other faiths in America.”
One county commissioner, Alex Patton, offered a motion to throw out the county’s new everyone’s-welcome prayer policy and switch to a moment of silence.
That is, a moment when everyone must keep his or her mouth shut and NOT pray out loud.
The board approved the motion 4-1, with Chairman Mitchem voting for the right to have prayers … and to turn one’s back on them if he or she wants to.
“The board voted to appease the Muslim,” commented Mawyer, “instead of letting competing ideas have it out.”
Mitchem, who owns a restaurant in Vale, N.C., said he has received numerous calls and e-mails supporting his position. He also said that religion is irrelevant to how he serves the people of Lincoln County.
“If he wants to pray to a tree, that’s fine,” Mitchem said of a non-Christian giving an invocation. “But I don’t let that matter to my job. If they come before the board with a business matter, I’m not gonna ask what his religion is.”
“What bothers me is that as long as the Lincoln County Board has existed, you’ve always been able to say the prayer you wanted. We had the policy set up.”
Saying that even the Muslim activist seemed disappointed by the outcome, Mitchem added, “Now, the way it is, nobody can pray.”
Alec Rooney serves as communications director for the Christian Action Network. He is a longtime journalist, with experience as a writer and editor at five daily newspapers over 25 years. An award-winning print copy editor and copy desk chief, he also works as a freelance academic book editor. He is a 1986 graduate of the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., and holds an M.A. in English from the University of Kentucky.