Board of Commissioners chairman Carrol Mitchem might think he speaks for Lincoln County.
But the reality is that, as our top elected official, he is the public face of Lincoln County government and, therefore, the public face of Lincoln County.
That reality makes recent comments Mitchem made to this paper about religion’s place in government all the more reprehensible, and calls into question the direction the county is headed under his stewardship.
Mitchem’s comments about prayers held at the start of public meetings, published in a story in Friday’s edition, don’t represent Lincoln County, they don’t represent the Board of Commissioners and they don’t exemplify the type of behavior that we can by all rights expect from our top elected official.
Lincoln County commissioners open their meetings with prayer, a practice that has come under fire from a federal judge after Rowan County commissioners also opened their meetings with Christian prayers. When Mitchem was asked about Lincoln County’s prayers in the light of the Rowan ruling, he launched into a tirade against Islam, saying “A Muslim? He comes in here to say a prayer, I’m going to tell him to leave. I have no use for (those) people. They don’t need to be here praying to Allah or whoever the hell they pray to. I’m not going to listen to (a) Muslim pray.” Mitchem’s rationale for his position was the dubious idea that the United States and Constitution were founded upon Christian ideals — an idea of questionable historical accuracy — despite the fairly clear language of a little thing called the First Amendment that expressly prohibits government from favoring one religious doctrine over another.
That’s the big problem when religion and government mix. Because we, thankfully, live in a secular representative democracy rather than a theocracy, participation in the political process — even if that participation is limited to offering an invocation before a county meeting — must be open to adherents of all faiths.
Mitchem’s power does not extend to rewriting the very foundation of our democracy.
This paper will always support any individual’s right to pray how, when and where they please, even in a government meeting. But that right must be all-inclusive. That Mitchem would even suggest infringing upon that right raises some very serious questions that only Lincoln County voters can answer.