Rowan County Commissioners Vote to Waste Taxpayer Money by Reciting Christian Prayers at Meetings

It’s pretty bad when both your local government and a local church join hands to do everything wrong, and that’s precisely what’s happening in Rowan County, North Carolina.

The Rowan County Board of Commissioners prays at a meeting (via WSOC-TV)

The Rowan County Board of Commissioners has been opening its meetings with Christian prayers for over five years now, but local residents (with the help of the ACLU of North Carolina) are finally fighting back with a lawsuit (PDF):

“I want my local government to be open and welcoming to people of all beliefs,” said Nan Lund, a Salisbury resident who is one of three plaintiffs named in the lawsuit. “But when officials begin a public meeting with prayers that are specific to only one religious viewpoint, I feel unwelcome and excluded.

The commissioners, who deliver the prayers themselves, routinely call on Jesus Christ and refer to other sectarian beliefs during invocations. Opening invocations have declared that “there is only one way to salvation, and that is Jesus Christ,” as well as given thanks for the “virgin birth,” the “cross at Calvary,” and “the resurrection.”

According to the lawsuit, “97% of Board meetings in the past five-and-a-half years have featured sectarian prayer.” In other cases where these sorts of prayers have been allowed, they’ve at least been generic prayers that didn’t reference one prophet or another.

In response, last night, the Commissioners voted to hire a lawyer to defend their right to break the law. And nearby Cornerstone Church was ready to give them $10,000 to pay for legal fees (because Jesus is only happy when Christians shove their faith down everybody’s throats).

The Board didn’t accept the money, but only for the time being. They may take donations in the future, which is good, since they’ll lose this lawsuit and waste taxpayer money in the process.

The citizens who showed up at last night’s meeting were about as ignorant as the Commissioners:

“Commissioners I ask you to continue to pray and ask for guidance before you make a decision for our county,” said one man.

“The Constitution gives us the freedom of religion, not from religion,” said Pastor Bill Godair, from Cornerstone Church.

“We think it’s not just a matter of principle for this county it’s a matter of principle for the entire state of North Carolina,” said Jim Sides, the Rowan County Chairman.

“Nobody wants you to stop praying. Pray. That’s how we all see things, just because some don’t see it the same way, it doesn’t make it wrong,” said Veleria Levy, from Kannapolis.

If someone can explain that last one to me, I’d appreciate it…

Some Christian lawyers will represent the city for free, no doubt, but when they lose, it’ll be the taxpayers on the hook. (In which case, I’d love to see the church throw its money away.)

One thing the news reports didn’t mention were whether any Christians were brave enough to stand up to the Commissioners and say there needed to be a separation of church and state. Where are they? Why are they not speaking up?

This is just an idiotic move by the elected leaders. They care more about being able to proselytize to everybody than they do what’s best for the county. They’re being selfish and the citizens are the ones who’ll have to pony up for their irresponsibility. For that reason alone, these people need to be voted out of office.

(Thanks to J S for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • coyotenose

    And Cornerstone Church maintains a tax-free status why, exactly?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=628665833 Bill Santagata

    This issue has already been decided in the 4th Circuit, of which North Carolina is subject to, in Joyner v. Forsyth County which the ACLU wisely cites in the very first paragraph of its filing.

  • DKeane123

    “when Christians shove their faith down everybody’s throats” – For some reason this phrasing really bothers me. Likely because I hear it on clips of FOX “News” all the time.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Hemant, what that last one means is that nobody who matters wants the Commissioners to stop praying.

    Because you only matter if you toe their line. If you don’t, then they’ll make you or ignore you completely, rights be damned. And if the christianists want something, the law doesn’t matter. They’re immune to it.

  • The Other Weirdo

    I would quote Matthew 6:5-8 to them, but it’d be a waste of effort.

    • observer

      I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if they call you blasphemes.

      • The Other Weirdo

        A Jewish stand-up comedian once described the scene that occurred when his wife was giving birth to their first child. Through the pain she called him the Antichrist for putting her through that. He said that, as a Jew, it was the proudest moment of his life. I would feel exactly the same way if they called me blasphemous for point out that they’re doing their religion wrong.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    If someone can explain that last one to me, I’d appreciate it…

    It sounds like the old “majority rules” routine. He thinks that because the majority of people in his county favor prayer in government, that makes it right and legal.

    It could be pointed out to him that no, the Constitution rules, and the majority rules only in very narrowly controlled conditions, such as an election. If the majority actually ruled, then towns across the nation could vote all the Jews out of town, or all the people of color out of town, or all the Catholics out of town, or in a Catholic majority town, they’d vote all the Protestants out of town. Every town would be a nasty little tyranny of the majority. Eventually all left-handed redheads with maternal grandmothers from Denmark would be voted out of town.

    Not that the oaf would understand any of that.

  • Gary

    I, for one, am getting tired of the phrase “shoved down my throat” shoved down my throat.

    • Cylon

      What’s your point? Do you just want people to use a different idiom, or do you actually have a problem with this post?

      • Gary

        The former. I think the other side hears it and thinks that we’re saying that they are trying to get us to participate or convert us. So it misrepresents what we’re actually trying to convey.

        • The Other Weirdo

          The other side hears wants it wants to hear. They see the word “atheist” and freak out, terrified that their children will see it and automagically go to hell.

  • baal

    I wonder if we can get a federal law passed to quash the ‘ceremonial deism’ of governmental meetings. I’d like it to have personal misdemeanor charges attach for its violation.

    I’m only half serious as I know it’d never pass. It’s entirely clear, however, that the ‘ceremonial deism’ ruse is little more than a figleaf for on-going and repeated violations of the establishment clause.

    A more effortful but likely more successful route might be to have secular folks run for town council seats. Hop to it!

  • Rain

    Why is the council staring at their shoes. Was there a shoe sale or something?

    • observer

      Maybe they’re prying for their shoes’ soles.

    • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

      They’re napping. Remember, someone was praying.

    • Iman

      Christianiyt is just a cult where the followers get together on Sundays to compare clothing (thanks to George Carlin on that one) – so these southern inbreds are just getting ready for the Sunday fashion show known as “service”…..

  • Rain

    Jim Sides sanctimoniously shoves his Bible in every one’s faces:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dd2ydM_fXEg

  • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

    It’s nice to see mixed comments at that WSOC page. I expected it to be one-sided, pro-Christian. But then I have no idea if those people are local.

  • ortcutt

    Friendly Atheist reminds me again and again why I don’t live in the South.

    • Chris B

      As someone who grew up in Iredell county, which borders Rowan, I couldn’t agree more. It is probably worth noting that both of those counties are *very* rural, and opportunity is quite limited. Most people, especially those with strong education, will leave as soon as they are able. This allows ultra-conservatism and superstition to gain a nearly irrevocable foothold.

      • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

        Greetings, from one Iredell native to another.

      • Charles_C

        Well, I live in Kannapolis and I am so glad you ass is not here anymore.

  • http://cranialhyperossification.blogspot.com GDad

    I would like to see if any of these folks who trot out the “freedom of religion, not freedom from religion” argument also try to use the “Christianity is not a religion, but rather a [relationship with Christ | realization of the truth | other trite nonsensical assertion] argument. Does anyone have evidence of such a thing?

    • DAAlvin

      Pastor from Cornerstone Churched used the “Freedom from religion” quote

      • http://cranialhyperossification.blogspot.com GDad

        Right. I wonder if he’s ever used the line about Christianity not being a religion. If so, then there might be some logical inconsistencies around the “freedom of, but not freedom from” concept.


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