Forsyth prayer vs NC gambling

by Brian Clarey


Last week the Forsyth County Commission decided, by a 4-3 vote, to defend its right to invoke the name of Jesus Christ before meetings, which it had been doing with a prayer until a US District Court judge ruled in January that it violated the First Amendment.

It’s a stand on principle, with little else to give it weight. The commission acknowledged that it could take a year to file an appeal, perhaps a decade or longer to get it before the Supreme Court, when most or all of them will be out of office. Smart money says the court will uphold the wall between church and state, though who knows what the Supremes will look like in 2020, after a couple more presidents have had a chance to affect history.

Either way, in voting to appeal, the county is committing to feed the lawyers on this one. So far it’s being underwritten by the NC Partnership for Religious Liberty, which is accepting donations through its website and a series of billboards that also accuse the ACLU of stifling free speech. It’s a study in fear and reactionary politics in the face of rapid change, which is another way of saying that the church folks are taking a stand — some of them, anyway. A healthy contingent supports a moment of silence before commission meetings, which would allow all present to pray — or not — to whatever deities they wished. This, apparently, was not good enough for Jesus, as channeled through eight of 10 speakers from the floor and four members of the Forsyth County Commission.

We contrast those vying for sainthood with the reluctant sinners of the NC General Assembly, who are slowly figuring out that video poker and slot machines have begun taking in and paying out cash all over the state.

While the Forsyth County Commission tilts at windmills, we hope the NC House is more firmly grounded in reality and ratifies HB 1537, which imposes taxation and regulation on an existing — and seemingly booming — industry. To do otherwise would be to espouse a stance that has long since been rendered moot, and also to turn down an estimated $500 million in taxes generated by video poker profits — an amount which approximates the state’s estimated annual deficit.

A key difference here is that nobody will be forced to play video poker, but the Forsyth County Commission seeks to force many of its residents to pray to a god in whom they do not believe in the name of the government, behavior we claim to be inherently more dangerous than trying to fill an inside straight.

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