FFRF urges N.C. county board to nix commissioner-led prayers

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The Freedom From Religion Foundation is urging the Stokes County Board of Commissioners in North Carolina to immediately end the practice of commissioner-led prayers before each meeting.

FFRF had previously contacted the chairman of the Board of Commissioners alerting him to the practice. While FFRF had been assured that the commissioners would be revisiting the prayer policy, the meeting on Jan. 9 reportedly opened with a prayer from Commissioner Sonya Cox, beginning with “Dear heavenly Father” and concluding with: “In your name we ask this, amen.”

“It is our understanding that there has been no change to the prayer policy at Board of Commissioners meetings,” FFRF Equal Justice Works Fellow Kat Grant writes in a letter to the legal representative of the Stokes County Board of Commissioners.

Delivering an official prayer to open each meeting creates the appearance of governmental endorsement of Christianity, FFRF points out. The Establishment Clause strictly prohibits any government entity, which would include a board of commissioners, from entanglement with any religion.

Additionally, as the prayers open with “Dear heavenly Father,” the board shows a preference for the Christian religion. The prayers exclude the 37 percent of Americans who are non-Christian, including the nearly one in three Americans who now identifies as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.”

Prayer at government meetings is unnecessary, inappropriate, and divisive, and the best solution is to discontinue it altogether. It is coercive and intimidating for nonreligious citizens to make a public showing of their nonbelief (by not rising or praying) or else to display deference towards religious sentiment with which they do not believe, but their elected officials clearly do, Grant points out.

FFRF urges the Stokes County Board of Commissioners to focus on civil matters relating to the community — and leave all matters relating to religion to each individual.

“Does the board really need to pray about liquor licenses, sewers and variances?” asks FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Board members are elected to deal with terrestrial, not celestial, matters. They are free to pray privately or to worship on their own time in their own way, but they should not worship on taxpayers’ time.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, with over 800 members and a chapter in North Carolina. It protects the constitutional separation between state and church and educates about nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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