LINCOLN COUNTY, NC (WBTV) - A Lincoln County commissioner says non-Christian prayer is not welcome in government meetings that he is a part of, and that he plans on keeping it that way.
Lincoln County Board of Commissioners Chairman Carrol Mitchem told WBTV Friday that any prayer from a "minority religion" would not be heard before county meetings if he has a say in the matter.
"Other religions, or whatever, are in the minority. The U.S. was founded on Christianity," Mitchem said. "I don't believe we need to be bowing to the minorities. The U.S. and the Constitution were founded on Christianity. This is what the majority of people believe in and it's what I'm standing up for."
WBTV contacted Mitchem after a report was published in the Lincoln Times-News. In that report, Mitchem was asked about Rowan County, which was ordered earlier in the week by a federal court to stop opening meetings with a sectarian prayer. A federal judge ruled the Rowan County Board of Commissioners violated the Constitution when they held prayers before public meetings that were specific to one religion - Christianity.
"Changing rules on the way the United States was founded, Constitution was founded (I don't like)," Mitchem told the Lincoln Times-News. "I don't need no Arab or Muslim or whoever telling me what to do or us here in the county what to do about praying. If they don't like it, stay the hell away."
"A Muslim? He comes in here to say a prayer, I'm going to tell him to leave," Mitchem added. "I have no use for (those) people. They don't need to be here praying to Allah or whoever the hell they pray to. I'm not going to listen to (a) Muslim pray."
Mitchem echoed that sentiment to WBTV on Friday.
"I ain't gonna have no new religion or pray to Allah or nothing like that," Mitchem said. He added that anyone who doesn't want to hear a Christian prayer can leave and "wait until we're done praying."
Mitchem told WBTV that he believes this is a stance "we as a country" need to take. "The citizens continue to let things like this happen. I feel the silent majority are the people in charge," the chairman said.
"We're fighting Muslims every day. I'm not saying they're all bad," Mitchem said. "They believe in a different god than I do. If that's what they want to do, that's fine. But, they don't need to be telling us, as Christians, what we need to be doing. They don't need to be rubbing our faces in it."
Lincoln County Commissioner Alex Patton told the Lincoln News-Times that until about six months ago, he or former commissioner Carl Robinson gave the invocation before the council meetings. Since then, a couple of religious leaders from the county have been rotating in to give the prayer.
Patton also told the paper that he didn't think anyone would be denied the opportunity to give the invocation because of their beliefs. He said that it was "simply a matter of Lincoln County having 102 churches and all 102 representing the Christian faith."
WBTV contacted Patton, along with the other three members of the board about Mitchem's comments.
"I am a Christian, but I do not agree with Commissioner Mitchem," Patton told WBTV via email Friday evening. "Our country was founded on freedom of religion. All Muslims are not bad, just as all Christians are not good."
Patton said Mitchem has "just exposed our county to potential litigation, which was needless."
"Prayers have been upheld in some cases and not in others," Commissioner Martin Oakes wrote via email to WBTV. "My understanding of the Rowan County case is that the ruling was based on the prayers being restricted to those ONLY by commissioners, whereas in the other case in Upstate New York that was upheld in US Appeals Courts, prayers were open to any clergy in the town."
Oakes continued, "Our prayers are similarly open to any clergy who reside in Lincoln County, and should be similarly free from objection. The founders were trying to create a country where religious freedom exists, not an atheist country, but one in which all forms of worship are tolerated. Toleration includes the expectation that listening to a prayer from some other religion should not be cause to be offended or to sue people."
According to Mitchem, the council has not received any requests to stop Christian-only prayer. He said he's only received two phone calls about his comments in the paper's article. Both of them, he said, were supportive.
"Finally, someone stood up and said what needed to be said," Mitchem recalled one caller stating. However, he jokingly admitted he may get some negative feedback. "Too early in the game, I guess."