Interfaith Group Forms in Response to Local Invocation Policy, So Officials End Prayers Altogether

Back in May, in North Carolina, Lincoln County Board of Commissioners chairman Carrol Mitchem (below) made a startling comment about the board’s invocation policy:

… Mitchem said that not only will invocations remain in Lincoln County, but that he would see to it that no non-Christian prayers are delivered on his watch.

“A Muslim? He comes in here to say a prayer, I’m going to tell him to leave,” Mitchem said. “I have no use for [those] people. They don’t need to be here praying to Allah or whoever the hell they pray to. I’m not going to listen to [a] Muslim pray.”

“Changing rules on the way the United States was founded, Constitution was founded [I don’t like],” Mitchem said. “I don’t need no Arab or Muslim or whoever telling me what to do or us here in the county what to do about praying. If they don’t like it, stay the hell away.”

He later backtracked a bit saying he was just speaking as himself and not on behalf of the board… which didn’t make his comments any better, but confirmed that he’s still a horrible person.

That wasn’t all:

… he said that if a non-Christian gives an invocation, he would not ask them to leave. Instead, Mitchem would leave the chamber and return afterward to perform his duties as chairman.

“I’m not going to listen to (a non-Christian) pray,” he said. “So any other prayers or anybody that uses the Koran as their guidance or any atheist or any other non-form of religion that does not believe in the same God as I do, I will not listen to that. I will remove myself and then I will return and do county business.”

So anyone can give an invocation, but if you’re not Christian, Mitchem will cause a scene. Very mature.

Taking his lead, the Board eventually settled on an invocation policy that sounded inclusive but really wasn’t:

The policy allows invocations to be delivered by a county religious leader or “appointee of any assembly that periodically and regularly meets (within) the County for the purpose of worshiping or discussing their religious perspectives.”

Sounds good, right? Members of any religious group that meets in the area regularly can deliver the prayer! The problem is that Lincoln County is full of Christian churches (more than 100 of them)… and very little else. Unless you have a building and a lot of members — which atheists and Satanists and Hindus probably don’t have — regular meetings are hard to come by.

It’s obvious they were trying to shut out the minority viewpoints with a policy that, on the surface, seemed open to everybody.

But here’s the wonderful twist to the story.

After that policy went into effect, those few non-Christian groups banded together and formed a supergroup that meets in the county, creating a forum that made all members eligible to deliver those invocation speeches.

To combat that language, the Foothills Interfaith Assembly began meeting every other week in June in a conference room at Lincolnton’s Charles Jonas Library. The group includes a Wiccan priest and members with Baptist, humanist, Unitarian, Baha’i, pagan and atheistic beliefs.

Brilliant. Just brilliant.

And then they decided to rub it in Mitchem’s face:

Tony Brown, the Wiccan priest, was elected the group’s director and suggested [Muslim Duston] Barto make the first prayer since his religion was the one Mitchem initially ostracized.

Barto’s speech may be the first non-Christian prayer since the policy was introduced, but more are set to follow. William Keener, a representative of the Hickory Humanist Alliance, is set to deliver the invocation at the following meeting on Aug. 17.

County officials wanted to shut out non-Christians… and they failed because they were outsmarted. It’s a great blueprint for other parts of America where Christians have taken over the local government.

And the story isn’t done yet!

Last night, Barto delivered his invocation.

Mitchem wasn’t there to hear it because he was off sulking behind closed doors. Someone in the audience also held up a “no Moslem prayer” sign as Barto spoke.

One of the other Commissioners was so embarrassed by the whole spectacle that he proposed ending the invocation policy altogether:

After chastising Board of Commissioners Chairman Carrol Mitchem for walking out of the chamber prior to Barto’s speech, Commissioner Alex Patton motioned to scrap the county’s barely two-month-old all-inclusive invocation policy for a moment of silence.

The motion was unanticipated, occurring at the very end of the meeting, and no public comment was allowed. Only Mitchem voted in opposition.

It’s a great move, and it should have happened months ago, but it shows you what the social pecking order looks like. It’s telling that the moment a non-Christian delivered an invocation, they decided to cancel invocations completely:

“I don’t think that it was a just-happened-to thing,” [Wiccan priest Tony] Brown said. “It’s obviously a reactionary policy designed to exclude minorities… The idea that it can be one religion for years and years and years and then the moment another faith steps in, they shut it down. That’s not representative. It’s like shutting down a lunch counter because black people want to eat there. That’s what it’s like.

Perhaps the best part of this whole story is that the interfaith supergroup has no plans to disband. They realize the importance of sticking together in a mostly-Christian community and will be meeting again later this month:

“The interfaith group met because we recognized a serious need for interfaith dialogue and for coexistence to be enriched in Lincoln County so that hate, bigotry and negativity can be purged from our society,” Barto said. “We don’t have room in 2015 for people that hate other people irresponsibly. We don’t have room for people that can only speak in negative tones. We have got to evolve our understanding of one another and that’s why the Foothills Interfaith Assembly exists.”

Amazing job all around. And for once, I don’t even care that the Humanist won’t get to deliver an invocation in two weeks.

(Thanks to Chris for the link. Portions of this article were published earlier)

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