Lincoln County's Christian Soldier
The Board of Commissioners chairman gets the prayer-before-meetings issue exactly wrong
The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause is meant to protect religious minorities from majorities imposing their religious preferences through government power. This is basic. It applies even if—especially if—a county or state has 100 Christian churches and no mosques, synagogues, or Buddhist temples, or any other combination. If the United States was founded on any principle, it was founded on that one.
Last week, a federal judge ruled that Rowan County violated the First Amendment by opening Board of Commissioners meetings with expressly Christian prayers and urging attendees to join them—a practice the judge said was “coercive.” A reporter for the Lincoln Times-News in Lincolnton asked that county’s board chair, Carrol Mitchem, what he thought about the ruling. Mitchem’s response:
“A Muslim? He comes in here to say a prayer, I’m going to tell him to leave. I have no use for [those] people. They don’t need to be here praying to Allah or whoever the hell they pray to. I’m not going to listen to [a] Muslim pray … Changing rules on the way the United States was founded, Constitution was founded [I don’t like]. I don’t need no Arab or Muslim or whoever telling me what to do or us here in the county what to do about praying. If they don’t like it, stay the hell away.”
“Other religions, or whatever, are in the minority. The U.S. was founded on Christianity … 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.”
It’s always distressing to see public officials, even in places like Lincoln County, get something so essential to the nation’s founding so wrong, especially when they drape themselves in the flag while doing it.
It’s probably pointless, but we need to express these things anyway: No one is demanding that Lincoln County open its public meetings by kneeling and facing Mecca, or favoring any religion at all. The United States was not “founded on Christianity” or any other faith. The Constitution sure as hell wasn’t. The fact that “the majority of people” in Lincoln County are Christians is the compelling reason why commissioners shouldn’t treat their meetings like tent revivals; preventing public bodies from foisting their religious preferences on the people—whether they approve of it or not—is the whole damn point.
Mitchem is up for re-election next year. He was the leading vote-getter last time around, so I’m sure this incident won’t hurt his campaign. But it dangles lawsuit bait before any interested parties willing to join the ACLU in having a judge do for Lincoln County what one just did for Rowan, costing Lincoln a nice sum in legal expenses.
Not that any of that matters when you’re standing up for the Church of Jesus Christ, Christian Warrior. But clearly some higher earthly authority is going to have to tell the county board to knock off the proselytizing from the dais, and Mitchem that the country he claims to revere was founded on the precise opposite of what he thinks it was. If he doesn’t like it, he can stay the hell away.