I’ve written often about the public meeting prayer issue we had in Forsyth County, and as a result I had many opportunities to discuss the issue with friends, family and readers of this little ‘ol blog of mine. In those discussions one of my greatest frustrations was when someone would say, “Well if they don’t want to hear the prayer they just don’t have to listen to it or they can step outside until the prayer’s done.” It was frustrating for a few reasons, not the least of which was that it indicated they didn’t seem to care that people who didn’t share their religious beliefs would have to experience unnecessary discomfort in order to partake in a civic process that is available to all citizens of every religious persuasion (or lack thereof). That’s why I’d love to see a project in Oklahoma come to fruition:
In January the Satanic Temple announced plans to erect a monument glorifying the Dark Lord on the front lawn of the Oklahoma Statehouse. An Indiegogo campaign was launched with what seemed like a somewhat lofty goal of $20,000, but by the time donations ended almost $30,000 had been raised. Now an artist trained in classical sculpture is toiling away in New York, crafting a Baphomet figure sitting beneath a pentagram and flanked by two children gazing upward in loyalty. When it is finished, it will be cast in bronze and, the Satanists hope, eventually displayed in Oklahoma.
The statue is a direct response to the state’s installation of a Ten Commandments monument outside the Capitol in 2012. State Representative Mike Ritze paid for the controversial statue with his own money, and therefore it was considered a donation and OK to place on government property. Following that line of reasoning, the Satanic Temple submitted a formal application for their monument.
As Trait Thompson of the Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission told CNN last December, “Individuals and groups are free to apply to place a monument or statue or artwork.” The applications are then approved or rejected by the Commission. Unfortunately, the state has placed a halt on issuing permits for any other monuments until a lawsuit filed by the ACLU against Ritze’s Commandments monument is settled.
So here’s the thing we Christians need to understand – if we open government meetings with a sanctioned prayer or erect monuments like a cross or the Ten Commandments outside of government buildings, then we are forcing some of our fellow citizens to experience a level of discomfort similar to what you’re likely feeling when you look at that satanic monument. If you’re willing to allow monuments of all belief systems to be erected around your government buildings, or to have public meetings opened with invocations to any deity dreamed up by a group of people, then I guess there’s nothing left to argue about, but if you aren’t then you’re nothing more than a hypocrite and a violator of the Golden Rule.
In reading an article that a friend sent to me I found this quote from President Kennedy:
I believe in a President whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.
With a slight change it adequately reflects my view on the proper role of religion in American society:
I believe in a citizen whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition of citizenship.
I really hate beating a dead horse, but the Forsyth County prayer story just keeps getting resuscitated and I end up beating it again…and again. This time, though, I'm not going to talk about the case itself because there are better and plentiful sources for that. Rather, I'm going to focus on what I consider to be an egregious amount of disinformation being spewed by a private interest group, the North Carolina Partnership for Religious Liberty (NCPRL). Part of me wants to accuse them of lying, but lying implies a single act and what they are engaging in appears to be a systematic and ongoing campaign to deceive the citizens of Forsyth County.
Don't believe me? Check out this piece in Yes! Weekly that shows just some of their PR campaign to convince the people of Forsyth County to rally in support of county commissioners appealing the Federal judge's ruling against the County. To their credit the campaign worked, but to their discredit the campaign completely misrepresented what the case is all about. They continue to beat the drum that citizens' rights to pray to any deity they wish is being threatened even when they have to know that the only thing being threatened is the county government's ability to invite anyone to pray to a deity of their choice and, in so doing, endorsing a religion.
I'm fine with the idea that the NCPRL disagrees with the ruling. I'm also fine with them arguing to keep the status quo. I'm not fine with them using a campaign of disinformation to do it. As Christians they should be ashamed of themselves. I'm also really "not fine" with the fact that one reason our commissioners agreed to appeal was because the NCPRL agreed to cover $300,000 in legal fees. The fees the county is on the hook for are already exceed $125,000 and it's not a stretch to think that the fees could quickly exceed $300,000 and the agreement with the Partnership clearly states that they can't be held liable for any fees exceeding $300,000. There's also the not-so-small matter of whether or not the Partnership even has the $300,000. They say they do, but has anyone seen proof? Update: Scott Sexton wrote in his column that the group's leader Steve Cort provided proof at the County Commissioner's meeting that they have an escrow account with the $300,000.
Side note/question: Would the partnership's records be subject to FOIA requests since their involved with a government entity?
Lastly I'm going to repeat something I've said many times before and I'm addressing it to all the citizens of Forsyth County: if you don't believe that your right to pray to whichever deity you choose is safe then try any of the following and see if you're stopped:
- Sign up to speak at a county commission meeting during the public comments period. When your turn comes up just get up there and pray to your hearts content. They can't, and won't, stop you.
- Stand anywhere on public property and say a prayer. They can't, and won't, stop you.
I've made no secret of my disagreement with the Forsyth County Commissioners' stance on prayer before County meetings, but I'm bummed that they have pursued the legal case to the point where they are set to lose in court and I'm hoping that we taxpayers aren't going to be on the hook for legal fees. We've been assured repeatedly that we won't be, but I think we've all learned our lesson with the downtown ballpark so I don't think we should take those assurances to the bank just yet.