By AMANDA GREENE
Religion News Wilmington
It wasn’t offensive. It was just odd.
Attached to Hein’s annual invitation to pray at the beginning of New Hanover County Commissioners meetings was a note.
“It said I could do a generalized prayer but could not use Jesus or Christ in it,” he said in a phone interview. “My response was that my prayers are done in the name of Jesus so it seemed fruitless to say them in any other way.”
The law states that prayer at public meetings cannot favor one specific deity that is identified with a particular sect or religion. Read more about the law here.
So Hein removed his name from the invocation list. Another five pastors around the city have also removed their names in protest, said County Commissioner Jonathan Barfield last week.
Prayer to start public meetings is a widespread practice throughout North Carolina at boards of education, county commissioners and city council meetings. Sometimes local clergy are invited to give the prayer, and other times board members give the prayer.
Hein said he understood the idea of the separation of church and state.
“No, we’re not supposed to have a state religion. I get that. But I don’t see how one prayer at one meeting establishes a state religion,” he said.
Hein is worried that the law could hamper a pastor or spiritual leader’s freedom of religion.
“It seems like there’s a specific prohibition against praying to Jesus Christ,” he said. “If a person wants to talk about their faith in a public place, that shouldn’t be offensive. It’s just very odd. If it’s who they are, they should be allowed to express who they are.”