Pastor Challenges Prayer Policy
Special Report - July 12, 2010
A Winston-Salem pastor has asked the leadership of the North Carolina House of Representatives for an apology, after his previous invitation to offer the opening legislative prayer for the House session during the week of May 31 was rescinded because he insisted on closing his prayer “in Jesus name.” At a press conference held with his attorneys from the Christian Law Association on July 8, Pastor Ron Baity of Berean Baptist Church in Winston-Salem released a copy of a letter, written by his attorneys and dated July 7, that he sent to both House Speaker Joe Hackney and the Principal Clerk of the House, explaining the incident and why it violated his First Amendment rights.
The 9-page letter explains that Pastor Baity, who is also president of Return America, was invited to offer the opening prayer for the House during the week of May 31 to June 3, but when the House Clerk reviewed his written prayer on the first day, he was told that, “those of other faiths would be present and might be offended if he prayed in Jesus name.” When Pastor Baity replied that as a Christian, he was required to pray in the name of Jesus, the Clerk went to speak with the Speaker of the House about the issue. Pastor Baity was then informed that he could offer his prayer, as written, that day, but that his services would not longer be required the rest of the week. “I was made to feel like a second class North Carolinian when I was told that my services would no longer be needed if I could not offer the opening prayer in the manner prescribed by the House of Representatives, rather than in the manner my Biblical faith requires,” Pastor Baity said at the press conference. “It appears that only those religious leaders willing to pray a government prescribed prayer will be given the honor of participating in this legislative prayer exercise in the future.”
At the press conference, Christian Law Association attorney, David Gibbs, III, noted that the “First Amendment promises all Americans the free exercise of their religion, which includes the right to pray as their faith requires, even when they are invited to open state legislative sessions with prayer.” Gibbs added, “We trust that the North Carolina House of Representatives will realize its mistake and will offer Pastor Baity another opportunity to pray without requiring him to use a prayer that is mandated by the government.” The letter asked for a response within 10 days.
On July 9, House Speaker Joe Hackney and House Republican leader Paul Stam (R-Wake) released a joint statement to FOX News Radio, explaining the House prayer policy but promising to review the guidelines for guest chaplains. “It has been our practice in the North Carolina House of Representatives for many years to request, but not require, that our guest chaplains deliver a nonsectarian prayer. This is intended as a show of respect for all the religions practiced by the members of the House and the people we represent,” the statement read. “In this instance, we allowed Pastor Baity to deliver his prayer, without interference, even though it was sectarian in nature. Nonetheless, we will review our procedures and guidelines concerning guest chaplains, and we will make sure we abide by applicable constitutional procedures. The House will adjourn within the next few days, but the results of this review will be publicly available whenever it is complete.”
In a statement given to the North Carolina Family Policy Council on July 12, Rep. Paul Stam said the following:
"My own view of the matter is this:
- Government officials should not direct the content of the prayers of others.
- This is consistent with the free exercise of religion protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 13 of [the] North Carolina Constitution which concludes: “no human authority shall, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience”. It does not constitute an establishment of religion.
- I was pleased that the Speaker of the House invited me to participate in the review of our procedures concerning guest chaplains."
Copyright © 2010. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.