Wednesday, May 20, 2015

My Comments at the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners Meeting

Here are my prepared remarks delivered at the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners Meeting on May 18. My takeaways are here. Video of the meeting is available here (my comments are at 26:45 - 29:50).

Thank you Commissioners. I live just a few miles from here in Sherrills Ford, but I was raised in Maiden. My father’s ancestors settled in the Maiden area, in what is now part of Lincoln County, in the mid-Eighteenth Century. They were what are called Pennsylvania Dutch – which means they were actually German (not Dutch) – and they likely came here for a variety of reasons, including multiple wars and the associated taxes in their homeland, but also for religious freedom. In Europe at that time the rulers chose what churches were allowed. And many pious Germans of strong convictions migrated to North America, especially Pennsylvania, because it offered them an opportunity to practice their own religion without any interference from the government.
As a life-long resident of Catawba County, I have spent a lot of time in Lincoln County. As a teenager in the late 70s my friends and I cruised the square here in Lincolnton every weekend. I was saddened when It’s was demolished, and I think the Bar-B-Q King in Boger City has some of the finest Bar-B-Q in the area. My family attended your Apple Fest last year, and my wife frequently comes here for shopping and crafts. We love this city in particular for its rich history and beautiful architecture, but mostly for the kindness and welcoming nature of your citizens and businesses.
So as a nontheist and Secular Humanist, I was very concerned about Commissioner Mitchem's recent public comments. I feared that he had needlessly exposed your county to potential litigation which could result in significant expense to your taxpayers. But even more importantly, I was deeply concerned that Commissioner Mitchem’s comments appeared to be intended to denigrate nontheists and religious minorities who attempted to participate in their local government. So I was pleased to read that he has now acknowledged that he shouldn’t have said these things and that it was a mistake. I commend him for this admission. The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway prohibits municipalities from discriminating based on religion in deciding who may give opening invocations. Accordingly, I believe that this Board should move quickly to show that Lincoln County has a policy of nondiscrimination when it comes to invocations at government meetings and not erect barriers to participation by nontheists and religious minorities. [I noted agreement with the previous speaker, Mr. Goodson, regarding a moment of silence or no invocations at all being preferred. Absent that, I again encouraged the board to adopt a policy of nondiscrimination] Thank you for this opportunity to speak.
Additionally, I sent the following to Commissioner Martin in a follow-up email after the meeting:
I wanted to personally thank you, and the entire Board, for the opportunity to speak at last night’s meeting and for adopting a formal invocation policy that does not discriminate against nontheists and religious minorities who meet regularly in Lincoln County. I would prefer to keep religious practices out of government proceedings entirely, but I would also support replacing the invocations with a moment of silence as you suggested. And I very much appreciated your formally proposing this option during the meeting.
Still, I was encouraged by the Board’s action and most of the public comments last night which indicated clearly to me that Lincoln County does respect diversity and tolerance. I commend the Board for your swift and clear resolution of this matter, and I hope that this situation encourages more active involvement in local government by the citizens of Lincoln County - and more diversity in your invocations. If so, I think the Lincoln County experience could serve as a real teaching moment for the nation in the proper way to handle these types of issues.

No comments:

Post a Comment