A North Carolina pastor was relieved of his duties as an honorary chaplain of the state house of representatives after he closed a prayer by invoking the name of Jesus.
"I got fired," said Ron Baity, pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Winston-Salem. He had been invited to lead prayer for an entire week but his tenure was cut short when he refused to remove the name Jesus from his invocation.
Baity's troubles began during the week of May 31. He said a House clerk asked to see his prayer. The invocation including prayers for our military, state lawmakers and a petition to God asking him to bless North Carolina."
"When I handed it to the lady, I watched her eyes and they immediately went right to the bottom of the page and the word Jesus," he told FOX News Radio. "She said 'We would prefer that you not use the name Jesus. We have some people here that can be offended.'"
When Baity protested, she brought the matter to the attention of House Speaker Joe Hackney.
"I told her I was highly offended when she asked me not to pray in the name of Jesus because that does constitute my faith," Baity said. "My faith requires that I pray in His name. The Bible is very clear."
When the clerk returned, Baity said he was told that he would be allowed to deliver the day's prayer - but after that - his services would no longer be needed.
Hackney, a Democrat, and House Republican Leader Paul Stam released a joint statement to FOX News Radio:
"It has been our practice in the North Carolina House of Representatives for many years to request, but not require, that our guest chaplains deliver a nonsectarian prayer. This is intended as a show of respect for all the religions practiced by the members of the House and the people we represent."
"In this instance, we allowed Pastor Baity to deliver his prayer, without interference, even though it was sectarian in nature. Nonetheless, we will review our procedures and guidelines concerning guest chaplains, and we will make sure we abide by applicable constitutional procedures. The House will adjourn within the next few days, but the results of this review will be publicly available whenever it is complete."
Baity said he's not happy with the way he was treated.
"When the state tells you how to pray, that you cannot use the name of Jesus - that's mandating a state religion," he said. "They talk about not offending other people but at the same time, if they are telling me how to pray - that's the very thing our forefathers left England for."
The Christian Law Association helped Baity draft a letter asking for an apology and an opportunity to return to the state capitol and finish his tenure.
"The First Amendment promises all Americans the free exercise of their religion, which includes the right to pray as their faith requires, even when they are invited to open state legislative sessions with prayer," attorney David Gibbs told WXII-TV. "We trust that the North Carolina House of Representatives will realize its mistake and will offer Pastor Baity another opportunity to pray without requiring him to use a prayer that is mandated by government."
Baity said he is still stunned by what happened.
"You would expect this somewhere else - Cuba, Saudi Arabia," he told FOX News Radio. "You would never anticipate this happening in the United States of America."
In a word - the pastor said - the decision is "anti-Christian."