Last week, North Carolina pastor Ron Baity demanded an apology from his state’s legislators after they dismissed him from his chaplain duties when he prayed in Jesus’ name. Baity was scheduled to deliver the opening prayer for the North Carolina House for the entire week of May 31st, but when he invoked Jesus’ name in the first of these prayers “he was relieved from his duties for the rest of the week.” Baity is now requesting that the North Carolina House issue an apology and invite him back.
This issue shows the complicated nature of legislative prayer. On the one hand, Baity argued that the legislature prevented him from freely exercising his religion, while on the other hand, the legislators argued that allowing him to pray in Jesus’ name would be an unconstitutional endorsement of religion and would have made some members of the House uncomfortable. The House had a right to request a nonsectarian prayer, but for Baity, there may be no acceptable and proper way to pray, according to his faith, except in Jesus’ name.
While Reverend Baity certainly has the right to pray in Jesus’ name, I believe that the House made the right decision in dismissing Baity from his chaplain duties. Baity has a right to pray as he chooses when serving as a private citizen. As a chaplain for the House, however, Baity was serving as a “government mouthpiece,” and he therefore had an obligation to provide an inclusive, nonsectarian prayer.
Baity also asserted that he “was made to feel like a second-class North Carolinian” because he could not pray in the manner of his choosing. However, Baity was not being treated differently from any other chaplain in a similar situation – government chaplains of all faiths abide by these same restrictions in order to ensure that every American’s religious freedom is protected. In being asked to deliver a nonsectarian prayer Baity was being treated as a first-class citizen, with all the rights and responsibilities that belong to a citizen of a pluralist and democratic nation