A North Carolina pastor is demanding an apology from lawmakers in his state after he was dismissed from his chaplain duties for praying in Jesus’ name.
The legal representative of Pastor Ron Baity sent a letter this past week to North Carolina House of Representative Speaker Joe Hackney and the House clerk asking that his client receive an apology letter and another invitation to offer an uncensored invocation at the House.
Baity was scheduled to offer the opening prayer at the House for the entire week of May 31. But after he gave the first prayer in the name of Jesus he was relieved from his duties for the rest of the week.
“I got fired,” said Baity, pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, to Fox News Radio.
According to Baity, the House clerk was shown the transcript of his prayer and her eyes went to the bottom of the page to the word Jesus. He recalled the clerk telling him, “We would prefer that you not use the name Jesus. We have some people here that can be offended.”
“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,” Baity said.
“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.”
Speaker Joe Hackney and House Republican Leader Paul Stam have released a joint statement pledging to review guidelines on opening prayers, but did not issue an apology.
Supporters of the current North Carolina House prayer rule argue there is no place for sectarian prayers in a legislature prayer. The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina contended that someone offering a prayer at a legislative session is acting as a “government mouthpiece” and not as a private citizen. The government must stay neutral on matters of religion so the one offering the prayer should also use generic terms.
But Pastor Ron Baity’s legal representative, David Gibbs of the Christian Law Association, argues that Baity has a right to pray in Jesus name as long as he does not proselytize or speak negatively about another faith.
“The First Amendment promises all Americans the free exercise of their religion, which includes the right to pray as their faith requires, even when they are invited to open state legislative sessions with prayer,” remarked Gibbs.
“There is no authority in American history, tradition or Supreme Court precedent that requires a legislature to censor a private citizen’s prayers in order to participate in a benefit or privilege that is offered to other citizens of the state,” he added.
In the July 7 letter, Gibbs threatened to advise Baity to seek other legal options if the House does not honor their requests within ten days.
“We trust that the North Carolina House of Representatives will realize its mistake and will offer Pastor Baity another opportunity to pray without requiring him to use a prayer that is mandated by the government,” he added.