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House leaders consider changes to prayer rules

Posted July 9, 2010

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— Lawmakers plan to review procedures for guest chaplains in the state House after one pastor complained that he was asked not to refer to Jesus.

House Speaker Joe Hackney and Minority Leader Paul Stam said they plan to make sure the House rules on prayers are constitutional, multiple media outlets reported.

The Rev. Ron Baity of Berean Baptist Church in Forsyth County was invited to give the opening prayer at House sessions during the week of May 31.

He said he provided his prayer to a clerk, as requested. When the clerk saw that the prayer contained a reference to Jesus, she told him that people of many faiths attend the session and asked if he would drop the reference.

"For me to be asked not to pray in the name of Jesus is for someone to ask me to violate my faith," Baity said.

He said he told the House clerk, "I am a Christian, and as a Christian, I too can be offended, and I am offended if I cannot pray in the name of Jesus."

Baity said he was allowed to give his prayer May 31 but was told that his services weren't needed beyond that.

"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," Baity said.

In a joint statement Thursday, Hackney, D-Orange, and Stam, R-Wake, said they intended "to review our procedures and guidelines concerning guest chaplains, and we will make sure we abide by applicable constitutional procedures."

For many years, the House has requested, but not required, that guest chaplains deliver nonsectarian prayers, they said.

"This is intended as a show of respect for all the religions practiced by the House and the people we represent," Hackney and Stam said in their statement.

David Gibbs, an attorney for the Christian Law Association, which represents Baity in the dispute, said the House's actions amount to religious discrimination.

"If the speaker were to say, 'I will not allow people of a certain race to pray,' everyone would say that's discrimination," Gibbs said. "What's the difference when people who pray in Jesus' name are told, 'You're not allowed to pray, but everyone else is allowed to pray?'"

Katy Parker, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, supports the House's move, saying the General Assembly cannot appear to be endorsing any religion.

"The government has an obligation to stay neutral on matters of religion so that all citizens in North Carolina are included by their government," Parker said.

Baity, speaking Thursday to about 150 supporters at his church, said he wants Hackney to apologize. He said he also wants to be able to give the prayer in the state House without restrictions on what he can say.

23 Comments

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  • FairPlay Jul 9, 2010

    So what Hacney!!! Have a christian guest this time, next time have a muslim guest, next time a Hindi guest, get it? It is not rocket science. Cannot wait for November!!!!!

  • colliedave Jul 9, 2010

    Everyone should be allowed to pray according to the dictates of one's faith. Provided all faiths are represented during the year, what's the problem?

  • oleguy Jul 9, 2010

    We need to drop something on the ACLU, Bunch of cry baby liberals,,,Yes I said it,,, I am ready to take them on one at a time,,, As far as Ethics the bums in Raleigh lost theirs a long time ago,,, Common sence and self pride is all you need,
    America is going down hill, and fast

    Re Elect No One, they are all crooks

  • HeyYou858 Jul 9, 2010

    Our country was not founded as a 'Christian' one, it was founded on the basis of escaping tyranny from England. Freedom to practice their own version of religion is why the Puritans came to the "New World". Pennsylvania and Rhode Island were founded by folks who didn't agree with the Puritans. Some of our founding fathers were not even Christians! Thomas Paine (wrote Commonsense, helped to get the Revolution started) was very outspoken about his opinions that state-sponsored religions were not for the good of the people. Thomas Jefferson was a Deist. There is no solely 'Christian' basis for the United States Of America...the Pledge of Alliegence was altered during the Cold War to include the phrase 'Under God' in the 1950's...I could go on and on.

  • chevybelair57sd Jul 9, 2010

    Their agenda needs some serious prioritising here, we need ethics laws first and economic correction next, then this kind of consideration.

  • chevybelair57sd Jul 9, 2010

    the legislatures need to consider ethics reform instead of this matter!!

  • cjw6105 Jul 9, 2010

    Ain't multiculturalism grand?

  • OpenM1nd Jul 9, 2010

    When you try to be fair to everybody, you end up pleasing nobody.

  • htomc42 Jul 9, 2010

    "separation of church and state doesn't mean leaders can't practice faith"

    Of course not. But it does mean that they can't do so on the taxpayer's property and the taxpayer's dime. If there are no official prayers in the legislature, that in no way prevents them from doing it at any other time- which is the way it should have been done from the beginning.

  • soyousay Jul 9, 2010

    K-I know for sure now that hell is not going to big enough

    That's an interesting thought...how do you know that?

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