LINCOLN COUNTY, N.C. - Prayer was banned at Lincoln County board meetings after people said the chairman walked out before the board’s first Muslim invocation Monday night.
Commissioner Alex Patton, who proposed the change, said he is trying to protect religion by banning it from the board room.
Patton said the board needs to focus on issues like the economy and education and not get sidetracked.
After months of controversy, Patton said he felt it was time to remove religion from county government.
“To me, the final straw was when our chairman got up and walked out,” Patton said.
Duston Barto, with Foothills Interfaith Assembly, had been preparing to read from the Koran. It would be the first time a Muslim would lead invocation.
In May, Channel 9 spoke with Chairman Carroll Mitchem, who said if a Muslim led the invocation that he would walk out. He followed through with his threat Monday night.
“That was very upsetting. It was upsetting,” Barto said.
Patton said he made the motion to prevent further disrespect. In a 4-to-1 decision, commissioners voted to replace the invocation with a moment of silence.
Mitchem was the one commissioner to vote against it.
“I'm (an) elected official. I'm elected to serve every resident in Lincoln County whether I agree with them or not,” Patton said.
In May, the board voted to change their policy and allow anyone in the faith community to give the invocation.
“The unfortunate thing is the timing is very questionable,” Barto said. “It was almost like the commission was going to do what they wanted to do regardless of what the public interest was.”
The board passed the policy change without any public comment, which was a decision Barto takes issue with.
Patton said during his tenure, there has been little interest from the faith community to lead invocations.
Patton said he hopes one day commissioners will be able to discuss religion and reinstate prayer but until everyone is on board will religious freedom, he'll continue to support the ban.
Eyewitness News reached out to Mitchem on Tuesday but has not heard back.
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