Johnston County Commissioners will invite veterans to lead the Pledge of Allegiance at meetings, but they will hold off on allowing guests to deliver the opening invocation.
On Monday, Commissioners Chairman Tony Braswell proposed opening both rituals to public participation as a way to boost involvement in county government.
In the case of the pledge, Braswell suggested having the county’s Veterans Services Office set a schedule for veterans groups to take turns leading the ceremonial oath to the flag.
“It will get community involvement, and it will also give us a way to honor and recognize our veterans,” he said.
In a similar vein, Braswell asked his fellow commissioners to begin inviting churches in their districts to offer the opening prayer at county board meetings. Currently, one of the commissioners delivers the invocation.
The board raised no objections to the plan for the pledge, but Commissioners Allen Mims and Ted Godwin had concerns about the invocation.
Mims said commissioners needed to consult the county attorney before making any changes; Braswell said he had already done so. The board may invite churches to give the prayer, Braswell said, as long as the privilege is open to all members of the public.
But once commissioners opened that door, they would have to allow equal access to people of all faiths – no matter how unorthodox.
That lack of control gave Godwin pause. “I’m not sure I’m in favor of that,” he said.
As an example of what could go wrong, Godwin brought up the recent murder in Duck, where a man with the number 666 tattooed on his forehead is charged with stabbing a 61-year-old person at a church homeless shelter. If the invocation were open to the public, Godwin said, the board could one day find itself praying with a similarly outlandish individual.
“Maybe he started his own church; I don’t know,” Godwin said. “I’d hate for him to volunteer.”
Elsewhere in the country, anti-religion activists have begun taking advantage of similar policies as a means for public protest. One man in Florida, for example, has announced plans to push the limits by asking every city and town in his area for permission to deliver a Satanic invocation.
Despite the push-back, Braswell insisted that the board would benefit from increased community involvement. Pine Level had the open policy when Braswell was mayor from 1999 to 2003, he said, and the town had no problems.
After further discussion, the commissioners decided to take a closer look at the idea before acting.