By AMANDA GREENE
Religion News Wilmington
A half-dozen local pastors have removed their names from the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners’ invocation list since Monday’s meeting, according to one county official.
Commissioners Vice Chairman Jonathan Barfield said he’d gotten several emails from pastors who protested the commissioner’s decision not to allow sectarian prayer, or praying to a specific deity, to open its meetings.
“The idea was that Jewish rabbis wouldn’t be praying to Jesus Christ. And a Muslim imam wouldn’t be praying in the name of Jesus Christ. So we should just say Amen and not ‘in Jesus’ name,'” Barfield said. “If that is the law, that is the law. We have to follow the law.”
He said the pastor who was supposed to be there to give the invocation on Monday didn’t show up so Barfield, who is an ordained pastor, had to give the prayer.
The Commissioners’ action followed a U.S. Supreme Court decision last week not to hear an appeal from the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners’ in Winston-Salem, N.C. Lower courts previously ruled that Forsyth County’s Board of Commissioners had endorsed Christianity at their meetings by allowing prayers with too many references to a specific deity, Jesus Christ.
Barfield and several area pastors weren’t the only ones upset by the decision. The Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation sent a “Prayer and Action Alert” email to its constituents linking to a WECT news story about the nonsectarian prayer requirement.
“There are three options to petition this ruling – including going to the Supreme Court. Urge the Commissioner of New Hanover County to fight for your religious liberty,” the email stated. “You can call and ask the fourth district court of appeals for details here. It’s up to us to do something.”
In the wake of the Supreme Court decision, the North Carolina American Civil Liberties Union said it will be sending letters warning counties across the state to cease their sectarian invocations.
But the state’s ACLU legal director said her office wasn’t planning on sending any such letters to New Hanover, Pender or Brunswick counties.
“We haven’t received any complaints from those areas,” said N.C. ACLU legal director Katie Parker. “We were contacted by the New Hanover County attorney just for clarification, just to make sure they’re doing what they need to do.”
But, to Barfield, the new law links to the loosening of religious ties leading to the end of days in the Bible.
“In my opinion, we’re getting further and further away from the Lord,” he said. “It’s like the passage in Romans, every tongue shall confess and every knee shall bow and confess he is Lord. To me, it’s all biblical.”