City commissioners in Carroll County, Md., voted this week to temporarily halt sectarian prayers at their meetings in compliance with a judge's previous ruling. One city commissioner who voted against the temporary ban said that such a move "binds me to an act of disobedience against my Christian faith."
The commission voted 3 to 2 on Tuesday to stop sectarian prayers at official city meetings. Although they cannot reference "Jesus Christ," board members may still use the terms '"God," "Lord God," "Creator," "the Almighty," "God of Abraham," "Heavenly Father," "Lord, our Governor," "Mighty God," "Lord of Lords," "Creator of the Earth" and "Our Creator." Additionally, only board president David Roush may lead the invocations.
The two county commissioners who voted against Tuesday's agreement were Richard Rothschild (R-District 4) and Robin Bartlett Frazier (R-District 1). Rothschild spoke briefly at the meeting as to why he couldn't support the commission's resolution, saying it was stifling his expression of faith. Rothschild added that although he was willing to follow a judge's ruling halting sectarian prayers, he would not sign a resolution forbidding him from doing so.
"In my judgment, this resolution asked me to refuse to acknowledge the Son of God. In my judgment, this resolution asked me to, in effect, disown him," Rothschild said. "If I tell someone they can pray, but I forced them to pray only in a way that is acceptable to someone of another religion, then, in effect, I am prohibiting them from praying in a way that [does not] violate their true conscious and beliefs. Censorship is not freedom."
"… I humbly and respectfully declare that I cannot and will not sign a document that formally binds me to an act of disobedience against my Christian faith," the commissioner added. His speech was reportedly followed by shouts of "Amen" from the crowd.
The commission's resolution comes after U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles Jr. ruled the commission was temporarily banned from using "the name of a specific deity associated with any specific faith or belief" during pre-meeting prayers. The temporary injunction was granted as a result of a lawsuit brought on by Carroll County residents and the American Humanist Association, who sued the county, arguing its pre-meeting sectarian prayers were unconstitutional.
The temporary junction granted against Carroll County has an expiration date of Aug. 1, but if a decision is reached before then, the injunction will be lifted. Currently, the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing a case regarding government prayer from Greece, N.Y., that could determine the fate of Carroll County's invocations.
Plaintiffs in the case requested that commissioners who disobey the injunction be held in contempt. Two weeks ago, Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier purposely prayed to Jesus Christ at a commission meeting shortly after Quarles' ruling, saying that she thought the injunction was "an infringement on my First Amendment rights of free speech and free religion, and I think it's a wrong ruling."
"I believe this is a fundamental of America and if we cease to believe that our rights come from God, we cease to be America," Frazier stated.
Quarles has yet to rule any commissioners in contempt. Although the commissioners approved the resolution to stop holding sectarian prayers, Monica Miller, a lawyer for the American Humanist Association, told The Baltimore Sun that although the resolution was "a great gesture," the contempt request will stand.