Sometimes a single incident neatly defines a “What’s wrong with this picture?” quiz. Such a one occurred recently in Lincoln County, North Carolina, when an inclusive ecumenical event instead exploded like a trick cigar.
It had been the custom of county commissioners to begin their meetings with prayer — Christian, Protestant prayer — but this custom was ended abruptly earlier this year when a federal judge ruled, concerning nearby Rowan county, that allowing only Christian prayer violated the Constitution. That is how at this particular meeting in Lincoln County a Muslim stood to offer a prayer.
At this juncture, Chairman Carrol Mitchem stormed out of the meeting, as he had promised earlier after the Rowan decision, proclaiming, “I ain’t gonna have no new religion or pray to Allah or nothing like that,” adding anyone opposed to Christian prayer “can wait until we’re done praying.”
“Other religions, or whatever, are in the minority,” he continued. “The U.S. and the Constitution were founded on Christianity… I don’t believe we need to be bowing to the minorities.”
Commissioner Alex Patton told the Lincoln Times-News he didn’t think anyone would be denied the opportunity to give the invocation because of their beliefs, but it was “simply a matter of Lincoln County having 102 churches and all 102 representing the Christian faith.” Yet Patton did distance himself from Mitchem explaining, that while a Christian himself, “I do not agree with commissioner Mitchem. Our country was founded on freedom of religion. All Muslims are not bad, just as all Christians are not good.” He further regretted Mitchem had “just exposed our county to potential litigation, which was needless.”
And the “What’s wrong with his picture?” First, that prayer should not be mixed with government; any prayer. Then, that Muslims are a “minority religion” — no, there are some 1.6 billion adherents worldwide (besides, if you’re going to institute public prayer, the number of devotees is immaterial). The misconception, not Mitchem’s alone, that the United States was founded on Christianity; it wasn’t. Ignoring (or ignorant) that Muslims, like Christians and Jews, are “People of the Book,” recognizing the God of Abraham.
Although the commissioners acknowledged none of these issues, from now on, their meetings will start with a few moments of secular silence.