Lincoln County Commissioners change prayer policy

For the first time Monday evening, a Muslim delivered the invocation before the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners meeting.

It will also be the last time.

Late into the meeting, commissioners voted to replace prayer at the beginning of meetings with a moment of silence.

The motion was made by Commissioner Alex Patton. There was no public comment and the topic was not on the agenda.

The meeting began with a prayer by Duston Barto. Barto, a Muslim American, was representing Foothills Interfaith Assembly.

Previously, only Christian prayers were said before Lincoln County meetings. That changed after Chairman Carrol Mitchem was under fire for saying only Christian prayers would be allowed. A U.S. District Judge ruled prayers before government meetings must be neutral in content and invoke a generic God. 

Following those comments, the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners passed an inclusive prayer policy that created a sign up sheet for people to deliver the invocation.

When Barto delivered the prayer before the meeting, Chairman Mitchem refused to be in the room. Mitchem reentered the room after the invocation. The county attorney, Wesley Deaton, turned his back to Barto during part of the prayer.

"I hope the citizens of Lincoln County make a choice in the next election and realize Chairman Mitchem doesn't want to listen to different viewpoints," Barto said.

Commissioner Alex Patton said Chairman Mitchem's actions were the tipping point for him. At the last minute, Commissioner Patton moved to replace prayer with a moment of silence. It passed 4-1. Mitchem was the only dissenting vote.

"This is a government building and it is supposed to reflect everybody," Patton said. "For Chairman Mitchem to get up and walk out disappoints me."

When asked if it was worth not being present for the prayer Mitchem called Patton a "lunatic" and said "nobody stands up for anything anymore."

As for Barto, he said he is disappointed that prayer will no longer be a part of meetings.

"I do find it unfortunate prayer is being removed."