Deadline passes, commissioner prays in Jesus' name as usual

SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - Rowan County Commissioner Jon Barber prayed as usual, evoking the name of Jesus Christ twice in prayer.

The ACLU gave the commission until March 5 to come up with a new course of action.

However, Katy Parker, ACLU Legal Director, told WBTV the ACLU would likely give the board a few days past the deadline if the issue was discussed during the meeting.

A crowd of folks signed up to speak in support of the commission. An overflowed crowd filled the hallways and sang hymns.

"The ACLU has attempted to intimidate them [commissioners] but they can not issue orders," Resident Larry Wright said.

The Rowan County Commission meetings came under the scrutiny of the American Civil Liberties Union for opening its meetings with sectarian prayer last month.

Parker told WBTV that the organization had received more complaints about the Rowan County Commission meeting prayers than any other in the state.  When asked how many complaints, Parker said "four to five."

A majority spoke in support but a few stood firm in their belief that their religious freedom is not a jeopardy. Jim Spiceland told the crowd he was a Christian but warned of a theocracy.

"I believe that the idea that we are threatened is bogus idea. We do believe in separation in church and state of religion and state," Spiceland said.

There were others looking for compromise - asking how to unite the community rather than divide it.

"We all win by instituting a time of solemn silence at the beginning of each meeting that will afford you and others the opportunity to pray according to their own journey of faith," one woman said.

The ACLU says the debate has prompted 15 other local governments to voluntarily change their policies.

Only Rowan County Commissioners are disputing it.

No one from the civil liberties union was at today's meeting but they say they are watching what happens closely.

Mike Meno with the ACLU told WBTV last week, "I hope the commissioners understand the potential consequences of this especially the consequences this could have on taxpayers who they would bring into the situation potentially."

The ACLU would not comment on the what consequences commissioners could face, but the group filed a lawsuit against Forsyth county last Summer in a similar case and won.

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