Religion and government meet and it’s not pretty

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Religion is causing some problems in governing bodies in Mecklenburg, Rowan and Lincoln counties.

The situations are explained below. We want to hear from you on this issue. What role do you think prayer should have in government meetings? Tweet us your thoughts.

Mecklenburg County

County commissioners Pat Cotham and Vilma Leake, both Democrats, used to be buddies. Now they are calling each other “hateful” and “a notorious liar.”

Why? The prayer said by the commissioners to open the meeting.

The facts:

– County policy says that each official meeting “shall open with prayer,” and the responsibility of saying the prayer should rotate.

– Cotham is Catholic and says that her favorite prayers are the Rosary and the “Hail Mary.” She thinks people wouldn’t like that, so she said she didn’t want to be included in the rotation. (There is no requirement to give a prayer.)

– Leake thinks Cotham should pray. She went public with those thoughts in a meeting by saying a fellow commissioner (she didn’t use Cotham’s name) was shirking a duty.

Quoted:

– “Some people might think I’m a heathen. It’s quite the opposite. I’ve been going to church my whole life. And I have a great prayer life.” -Cotham.

– “If she had said, ‘I don’t want to participate, I don’t want to pray in public,’ then OK. That’s her right. … But Pat said Catholics don’t pray in public. She’s a notorious liar.” -Leake.

– Commissioners “run their meetings they way they want to. The way they interact is really between them.” -Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio.

Lincoln County

Earlier this month a Lincoln County commissioner said he didn’t want non-Christian prayers given before government meetings. 

The facts: 

– Chairman Carrol Mitchem told WBTV that any prayer from a “minority religion” would not be heard before county meetings if he had his way.

– Commissioner Alex Patton told the Lincoln Times-News that he or former commissioner Carl Robinson gave the invocation before council meetings until about six months ago. Since then, a couple of religious leaders in the county have been rotating.

– Monday night, commissioners adopted a new prayer policy that aims to be “all-inclusive and nondiscriminatory to anybody wishing to deliver an invocation,” the Times-News reported.

Quoted: 

– “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. … We’re fighting Muslims every day. I’m not saying they’re all bad. They believe in a different God than I do. If that’s what they want to do, that’s fine. But they don’t need to be telling us, as Christians, what we need to be doing. They don’t need to be rubbing our faces in it.” – Mitchem.

– “If you don’t believe the rights of the minority are equal to the rights of the majority, then you are against what America stands for.” -Jibril Hough, spokesman for the Islamic Center of Charlotte.

– “I am a Christian, but I do not agree with commissioner Mitchem. Our country was founded on freedom of religion. All Muslims are not bad, just as all Christians are not good.” -Patton.

Rowan County

A federal judge in Winston-Salem ruled earlier this week that the Rowan County Board of Commissioners violated the U.S. Constitution by opening public meetings with their own Christian prayers between 2007 and 2013.

The facts:

– U.S. District Judge James Beaty wrote in his decision that the prayers advanced the commissioners’ Christian faith and excluded other religions.

– There had been a temporary injunction since 2013 that forbade the commissioners from delivering their own prayers before meetings. Beaty made that permanent.

Quoted:

– “While an all-comers policy is not necessarily required, a nondiscriminatory one is. When all faiths but those of the five elected commissioners are excluded, the policy inherently discriminates and disfavors religious minorities.” -Beaty.

– “Rowan County is home to people of many different beliefs, and I think our officials should embrace that diversity and make public meetings as inclusive as possible.” -Nan Lund, a plaintiff.

– “There are those who will agree with me and those who don’t. This legal ruling will not deter me from my Savior and Lord Jesus Christ.” -Former commissioner Jon Barber in a Facebook post.

Photo: Mark Hames/Charlotte Observer

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