Friday July 9, 2010

Pastor Relieved of Legislature Prayer Duties for Using Jesus’ Name

By James Tillman

RALEIGH, NC, July 9, 2010 ( – A North Carolina pastor was relieved of his duties as honorary chaplain with the state House of Representatives for closing a prayer with Jesus’ name.

“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,” said Pastor Ron Baity.

“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.”

Pastor Baity of Berean Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, had been invited to offer opening prayers in the North Carolina House of Representatives during the week of May 31.

When he arrived at the legislative chamber on May 31 and gave a transcript of his prayer to the clerk, he saw her eyes immediately drop to the end of the prayer.

“When I handed it to the lady, I watched her eyes and they immediately went right to the bottom of the page and the word Jesus,” he told FOX News Radio. “She said ‘We would prefer that you not use the name Jesus. We have some people here that can be offended.’”

“I told her I was highly offended when she asked me not to pray in the name of Jesus because that does constitute my faith,” Baity said. “My faith requires that I pray in His name. The Bible is very clear.”

Pastor Baity was permitted to deliver his prayer for that day, but relieved of his position for the rest of the week.

Democratic House Speaker Joe Hackney and House Republican Leader Paul Stam released a joint statement promising to review guidelines regarding opening prayers, but issued no apology.

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina said that there is no right to offer sectarian prayer before a legislative session.

“When you are doing an opening legislature prayer, you are acting as the government mouthpiece, not as a private citizen,” legal director Katy Parker said. “The government has an obligation to stay neutral on matters of religion so that all citizens in North Carolina are included by their government.”

David Gibbs of the Christian Law Association argued otherwise in a letter sent to the house clerk and speaker.

Gibbs said that the recent precedent of Snyder v. Murray indicates that legislative prayer is permitted so long as it does not proselytize, aggressively advocate a specific creed, or derogate another faith. Pastor Baity’s prayer, he said, did none of these things.

Therefore, Gibbs’ July 7 letter asks Hackney and the clerk to “provide Pastor Baity with a letter of apology and extend to him an invitation to return to Raleigh to offer the opening prayer for the legislature without attempting to again censor” him.

He concluded: “Should this very reasonable and entirely appropriate request be denied or not acted upon within ten days, our office will advise Dr. Baity of his other legal options.”