SALISBURY, North Carolina — A rally is scheduled for today to demonstrate support for several North Carolina county commissioners who were sued earlier this year for presenting pre-meeting prayers that were predominantly in the name of Jesus.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation (ACLU-NCLF) had filed suit against the Rowan County commissioners this past March, complaining that the invocations have asserted that “there is only one way to salvation, and that is Jesus Christ,” and thank the Lord for the “virgin birth,” the “cross at Calvary” and “the resurrection.”
“I want my local government to be open and welcoming to people of all beliefs,” Nan Lund, a local resident who is among three plaintiffs named in the suit, stated in a news release announcing the legal challenge. “But when officials begin a public meeting with prayers that are specific to only one religious viewpoint, I feel unwelcome and excluded.”
In July, Judge James A. Beaty Jr. sided with the ACLU and the three complainants, ordering the commissioners to end their Christian prayer practice while the case moves forward in court.
“Defendant Rowan County, North Carolina is hereby enjoined from knowingly and/or intentionally delivering or allowing to be delivered sectarian prayers at meetings of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners during the pendency of this suit,” Beatty wrote in his order.
However, the organization Return America, whose goal is to “restor[e] America to her Judeo-Christian values,” has scheduled a rally for the community to express their support of the county commissioners and their stand for Christ.
“Throughout this nation, those who oppose religious freedoms are attempting to steal our rights from us,” a flyer for the event, scheduled for this evening, reads. “It is time for us to stand up for our rights. Come join us in a show of support to these commissioners who are willing to stand for our freedoms.”
The gathering will be held in front of the Rowan County Administrative Building, and will begin 30 minutes prior to tonight’s commission meeting. Organizer Ron Baity and attorney David Gibbs will be the featured speakers at the rally.
“[The rally will] send a signal of support for freedom of religious expression across America,” Baity, who leads Return America, told reporters.
The group estimates that at least 1,000 area residents will attend tonight’s rally, but that as many as 3,000 could show up. According to reports, Return America assembled thousands last year in support of the state’s marriage amendment, which enshrined marriage as being solely between a man and a woman in the North Carolina Constitution.
Reaction to the rally from the community has been mixed.
“[T]his looks to be rather a group of hypocrites demanding that everyone pray as they do,” one commenter wrote. “That is against the First Amendment, but of course down here in North Carolina we are only allowed to be Southern Baptist Republicans or leave and make this state a one party state like Iraq or Afghanistan was before 911.”
“Praise God, in Jesus name,” another simply declared. “AMEN!”