Beaufort County Board of Commissioners change prayer at the beginning of meetings after complaint

BEAUFORT COUNTY, N.C. (WITN) -Commissioners and residents in Beaufort County were speaking out Monday night after a nonprofit group, asked the board to change how they conduct prayer at the beginning of its meetings.

The group, which advocates for the disassociation of religion in government, says the board violated the First Amendment Establishment Clause. As a result, the commissioners’ changed the structure.

Several people were in attendance to see the modified prayer Monday evening, which was led by a local pastor rather than board member Jerry Langley.

According to Ian Smith, with Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, Langley had been leading prayer at every meeting. He says their group received a complaint about it.

Smith says county officials leading prayer violates the Establishment Clause because it sends the message that the government is promoting religion.

A clergy member or citizen can say the prayer at board meetings, according to Smith.

However, board members like Commissioner Hood Richardson feel that religion shouldn’t even be an issue.

“We seem to all be practicing the Christian religion, which is important,” Richardson said. “It’s what the nation was founded on, and we need to continue what our founding fathers set into motion. There’s a lot more religion in government than anybody is willing to admit.”

Beaufort County resident Patrica Garrison, says everyone should have the freedom to discuss religion, including board members.

“I do feel that it’s the right of every citizen to be able to come to these meetings, to freely express their beliefs and thoughts,” Garrison said. “No matter what their religious beliefs are.”

Smith sent a letter to the Commissioners’, asking them to change the way that prayer is done on January 19th.

The Board of Commissioners say they will move forward with Monday night’s change of allowing people in the audience to lead prayer, but they won’t stop praying altogether.

The group has to notify Americans United of its plan by February 19th.