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Chatham Commissioners' pre-meeting invocation raises questions

Posted Thursday, June 23, 2011

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Pittsboro, NC - Saying an invocation before the start of a board meeting raised concerns among the Chatham County comissioners at their June 6 meeting. Commissioner Walter Petty stated he wanted to make a statement regarding the public input remarks made about the Constitution and prayer. He was a person of faith and persons of all different faiths made America what it was.

He was generally called on to give the invocation, and in his faith he could pray to no one but Jesus Christ because that was his belief. For that reason and because of his conviction he would ask that someone else be called on to pray.

He wanted it known that it was not intended to be a bold statement but was simply his position and his faith. If someone wanted to pray in a different manner that was fine and he had no issue with it. But because of his conviction he could do it no other way, and if that was the position of the Board and staff he would ask that someone else provide the invocation.

Commissioner Mike Cross stated that was exactly why they had gone through that discussion with the ACLU in 2005. They used to begin the meeting and then have a prayer, and now they had the prayer and then began the meeting. They had invited other denominations and had tried to set up a county-wide list of ministers of all faiths who would come in and offer a prayer, but that had not worked because people did not show up.

Commissioner Pam Stewart agreed, noting she had the same faith as Commissioner Petty. She did not have the right according to the Constitution to force that on anyone else, but she did have the right by the Constitution to believe the way she believed and not be persecuted for it as did everyone else. As far as she was concerned, she would not be able to offer a prayer in good conscience to anyone other than Jesus Christ.

Chairman Brian Bock stated he did not believe the Board needed to take any action and that there was nothing wrong with the way they had been praying. He believed if they read the First Amendment, praying before the meeting started was not the government establishing a religion. The First Amendment also talked about uninfringing the freedom of speech for someone to practice their religion, and he did not believe anything that the Board had done the last six months or the last seven years violated the Constitution.

Commissioner Sally Kost asked that they get the legal opinion of the county attorney, because there was case law that did not support the position that it was Constitutional.

Commissioner Petty stated that was fine, and if that was in fact the case then he would no longer do it. And, if the Board wanted to do something different that was fine as well. He was only stating his position.

Chairman Bock agreed they should get the County Attorney‘s opinion on that before the Board decided to make any change. He stated he did not believe they should change what they were doing until they received a legal opinion that they needed to make some change.

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Chatham Commissioners' pre-meeting invocation raises questions

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