Local News

Fayetteville, Cumberland Ban 'Jesus' From Officials' Prayers

Posted October 5, 2007 5:27 p.m. EDT
Updated October 5, 2007 9:47 p.m. EDT

— Fayetteville and Cumberland County have taken an official stance on prayers by their employees at official functions: Not in Jesus' name.

In May, the attorneys for both Fayetteville and Cumberland County sent out memos to city and county leaders regarding prayers at public meetings. The rules applied to city council meetings, police graduations and memorials.

Fayetteville City Attorney Karen M. McDonald and Cumberland County Attorney Grainger Barrett both asked local-government employees to refrain from "frequent invocation of the name of Jesus."

"Who am I praying to, the wind?" asked Fayetteville Councilman D.J. Haire. "I think it's downright sickening what they want us to do."

Fayetteville residents have also expressed disapproval of the ban.

"There's something wrong with whoever came up with that idea," resident Henry McNeill said.

Attorneys asked for the ban after recent lawsuits, including one in Forsyth County in which three citizens were offended at hearing Jesus' name in prayers at county meetings. Both memos cited a 2004 case in which the 4th U.S.Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that routine invocation of Jesus in the opening prayers of a South Carolina town's council meetings unconstitutionally endorsed one religion.

"Frequent invoking of the name of Jesus (or any other Deity) in opening prayer could lead to a lawsuit under the federal civil rights statute," McDonald wrote, in the memo.

"They're saying you can be free to be who you are as long as it fits into this little box, and I don't think it's right," Fayetteville resident Amber Evans said.

Fayetteville employees told WRAL they are not aware of any complaints about prayer in the city. Mayor Tony Chavonne was out of town and unavailable for comment.

The city has issued several generic prayers approved for public meetings. One reads, "We pray to the One up above."

Haire said he will refuse to read such generically worded prayers.

"I am a child of God first," he said. "I like being an elected official, but I'm not going to manipulate the Word of God to satisfy them."