LINCOLN COUNTY, NC (WBTV) - The Lincoln County Board of Commissioners passed a policy Monday allowing any religious leader in the county to sign up to deliver invocation before council meetings.
The policy passed just ten days after Chairman Carrol Mitchem made comments to several media outlets stating that only Christian prayer was welcome at the meetings.
"The religious leaders or chosen leaders of any assembly that periodically and regularly meets in Lincoln County for the purpose of worshiping or discussing their religious perspectives are invited to offer an invocation before a meeting of the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners," a note from the board stated.
"This opportunity is voluntary, and invocation speakers are free to offer the invocation according to the dictates of their own conscience," the note continues. "The Board requests only that the prayer opportunity not be exploited as an effort to convert others to the particular faith of the invocational speaker, threaten damnation, nor to disparage any faith or belief different than that of the invocational speaker."
Mitchem said on May 8 that non-Christian prayers, specifically Muslim prayers, were not welcome at the meetings, and that he was prepared to fight to keep it that way.
"Other religions, or whatever, are in the minority. The U.S. was founded on Christianity," Mitchem told WBTV in early May. "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."
"I ain't gonna have no new religion or pray to Allah or nothing like that," Mitchem said. He said that anyone who didn't want to hear a Christian prayer could leave and "wait until we're done praying."
He said that it was a stance "we as a country" need to take. "We're fighting Muslims every day. I'm not saying they're all bad. 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."
Mitchem spoke about the comments at Monday's meeting.
"I want to make clear that the opinion I gave was my own and not the opinion of the board of commissioners," he said. "When it pertains to county business, I'm going to make sure I listen to you and I'm going to talk to you about it."
Mitchem then asked if anyone would like to speak, saying he didn't "want to deny anyone the opportunity."
That opportunity was taken by several Lincoln County residents, both in support and opposition to Mitchem's comments.
"When I read the comments that Commissioner Mitchem said last week, I was just floored," resident Chris Goodson said. "I was upset that he said 'us' as if we're all Christian here - because everyone in Lincoln County is not Christian. He's there to represent us all, not just part of us. This is a diverse county. It's strongly conservative in a lot of ways, but it's a lot more diverse than people think."
Another man said he was "dismayed when I heard Mr. Mitchems bigoted and ignorant comments about religion." He said that many people living in the area are not Christians. Mitchem thanked the man and said, "I appreciate your opinion."
A Lincoln County Muslim then took to the podium.
"I still feel that that's a bit exclusive. I would like for it to be open to any resident of the county," said Duston Barto. "Faith is a very personal thing and there are many religions that don't have organizational structures that mirror Christianity. It's not in Lincoln County where people tell me to get out of the country. It's not in Lincoln County that I was beat up just because of my religion."
Some residents, however, said they supported the chairman's comments.
"I don't have no hatred against no one, but I thank god that you did stand up," one resident said.
Others showed support for his apology.
"I do want to thank mr mitchem for standing in front of everyone and having the guts to apologize," one resident said. "That was a very big thing to do."
"I'm a Christian and I'm going to be a Christian, but my Bible tells me not to hate and to love even my enemies," another commissioner said. "This is not church, this is government. And we're elected to represent everybody."