A federal judge ordered county commissioners in Maryland not to mention Jesus Christ during their board meetings, and one of the commissioners responded to the ruling by defying it.
Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier said her prayer at the March 27 budget meeting.
“Out of respect for my colleagues — I’m not sure how strongly they feel about it. I’m willing to go to jail over it,” Frazier said. She then recited a portion of what she said is a prayer written by George Washington.
“Bless the people of this land, be a father to the fatherless, a comforter to the comfortless, a deliverer to the captives and a physician to the sick,” Frazier said. “Let thy blessings guide this day and forever through Jesus Christ in whose blessed form of prayer I conclude my weak petitions.”
Frazier’s action was prompted by a preliminary injunction issued by Judge William Quarels Jr. of the US District Court of Maryland. Quarels ruled that the Constitution prohibits county officials from “invoking the name of a specific deity associated with any specific faith or belief in prayers given at [board] meetings.”
Humanists Had Sued to Stop Payers
Quarels’ injunction was part of a lawsuit brought against the county by a group called the American Humanists Association on behalf of three residents. The Humanists objected to the commissioners’ practice of opening meetings with prayers.
“I think it’s particularly troubling that one of the council members saw fit to violate not only the Constitution but the judge’s very specific ruling that they can’t be doing this,” Monica Miller, a lawyer for the Humanists, told WBAL-TV in Baltimore.
“She really is sort of turning this into something that it shouldn’t be about and is really furthering our point that legislative prayers are divisive and they really do entangle government with religion,” Miller said.
In his ruling Quarels stated the commissioners can say prayers as long as they do not make references to a specific faith such as Christianity or Islam. Under Rule 65 of the Federal Civil Procedures, Quarels has the power to issue a temporary restraining order barring the Commissioners from certain prayers, or from praying at all.
Residents of the community are split.
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“My concern is really, who cares? If they say Jesus, does it really offend anybody?” Brian Resch told WBAL-TV.
Said resident Jane North, “Prayer doesn’t have a place in government. My second take on it is that she doesn’t belong in office if she cannot follow the law.”
Bruce Hake, one of the plaintiffs in the humanist lawsuit who describes himself as a Roman Catholic, said Frazier “spoke at length in brazen defiance of the federal judge’s order.”
Supreme Court to Rule on Prayer at Government Meetings Soon
The American Humanist Association has sent a Notice of Contempt Warning to the Carroll County Commissioners. In the letter, Miller condemned Frazier’s actions but didn’t refer to her by name. She also promised not to seek federal contempt of charges against Frazier.
“As a courtesy, we are going to refrain from seeking contempt charges against the commissioner in this one instance, in the hopes that today’s behavior was simply an emotional outburst made without the benefit of serious consideration of the rights of plaintiffs and others,” Miller wrote. “She should understand, however, that any continued defiance of the court order will leave us with no choice but to seek a contempt order.”
That means Frazier, if she prays in a similar manner again, could be charged with contempt of court. A person charged with contempt of court can be imprisoned or face civil fines for violating such an order.
The issue could be decided by the US Supreme Court any week now in a separate case that was argued last November. In that case, Town of Greece v. Galloway, the justices will decide whether prayers at board meetings in Greece, New York, can be faith-specific. Supporters of such prayers were hopeful after oral arguments last year.
The Carroll County Times printed a copy of Frazier’s prayer. Following is her prayer:
“Oh Lord our God, most mighty and merciful Father, I, thine unworthy creature and servant, do once more approach thy presence. Though not worthy to appear before thee, because of my natural corruptions and the many sins and transgressions which I have committed against thy divine majesty; yet I beseech thee, for the sake of him in whom thou art well pleased, the Lord Jesus Christ, to admit me to render thee deserved thanks and praises for thy manifold mercies extended toward me: for the quiet rest and repose of the past night; for food, rainment, health, peace, liberty, and the hopes of a better life through the merits of thy dear son’s bitter passion.
“And, oh kind Father, continue thy mercy and favor to me this day, and ever hereafter; propose all my lawful undertakings; let me have all my directions from thy Holy Spirit and success from thy bountiful hand. Let the bright beams of thy light so shine into my heart, and enlighten my mind in understanding thy blessed word, that I may be enabled to perform thy will in all things, and effectually resist all temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil. Preserve and defend our rulers in church and state. Bless the people of this land, be a father to the fatherless, a comforter to the comfortless, a deliverer to the captives and a physician to the sick. Let thy blessings guide this day and forever through Jesus Christ in whose blessed form of prayer I conclude my weak petitions. Our Father.”
What do you think? Was the commissioner right? Let us know in the comments below.