Church of Wicca gave school board invocation

CLEVELAND COUNTY – Monday night’s Cleveland County Board of Education meeting heard the first non-Christian invocation since the new prayer policy went into effect in January.

The issue of adopting an inclusive policy of having a diversity of prayers came about when the Board wanted to change from a stand-alone moment of silence to include a religious invocation before their meetings. All religious organizations that meet regularly within the county per their policy were invited to be a part of the meetings.

wiccan elementsTony Brown, the NC Piedmont Church of Wicca (NCPCOW) leader, said in a phone conversation that he planned a respectful honoring of his tradition at the meeting. The NC Piedmont Church of Wicca was founded in 1999 to provide access to Wiccan teachings and religious services to sincere spiritual seekers in and around the Carolina Piedmont region

NCPCOW events are family oriented and kid friendly. Their religious practices emphasize the experiential relationship between humanity and the Divine. Wiccan beliefs are based on Divinity expressed in nature, gender equality, and the ability of individuals to have a positive impact on their environment.

“We have a 90 second limit to these invocations. In that time, we can’t perform a complete ritual, but we can offer a different perspective of a Creator that includes Nature and its elements,” said Brown.

While the Board Chair initially opposed implementing the policy fearing negative public reaction, he’s since changed his stance include diversity of religion.

 The board held a work session meeting last Nov. and discussion of a new and tightly worded proposal that would allow for prayer before meetings was held. In Octorber, the board had already moved to keep the moment of silence by a 7-2 vote. Many in the community voiced concern. After much discussion, the board agreed on the following parts of the approved policy.
  • The policy reads, in part, “the invocation shall not be an agenda item for the meeting, and the invocation is not part of the official business of the Board.”
  • The policy states: “No member or employee of the Board or any other person in attendance at the meeting shall be required to take part in or participate in any way in any invocation that is offered to the Board.”
  • Part of the policy proposal offered a detailed method to be followed in choosing those who give an invocation, including local media to announce upcoming open dates.“To ensure that the invocational speakers are selected from among a wide pool of the County’s religious leaders or leaders of organized assemblies, the invocational speakers shall be selected according to the following procedure: Within thirty (30) days of the effective date of this policy, the Superintendent shall post a notice inviting all religious congregations and organized assemblies that periodically meet within the County for the purpose of worshiping or discussing their religious perspectives to identify a speaker to deliver an invocation before a regularly scheduled meeting of the Board. The notice shall be published at least annually in all newspapers of general circulation in Cleveland County as well as on the Cleveland County Board of Education website.”
  • The policy proposal ends with a recognition that the board serves a variety of faiths: “The Board recognizes that Cleveland County is home to people of a variety of religious faiths and beliefs, therefore, this policy is not intended, and shall not be implemented or construed in any way, to affiliate the Board with, nor express the Board’s preference for, any faith or religious denomination.”

According to Tony Brown, “The prayer went well and it was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop. People were very respectful.”

Cleveland County Board of Education honors the diversity of religion within the county that reflects a growing trend across the country. There are an estimated 335,000 religious congregations across the country that roughly 118 million people attend worship services regularly.

Furthermore, over 16 percent of Americans are “unaffiliated” and, according to a Gallup Poll, 7 percent of our population say they do not “believe in God.” Their numbers are growing as America increasingly becomes a secular society, making publicly religious conversation more “delicate and dangerous,” in the words of Thomas Land of Emory University’s Candler School of Theology.

The Board’s new religious policy reflects a government agency that seeks to include all and embrace the diversity of those it serves.