CARROLL COUNTY, Md. — A Washington-based humanist group has petitioned the federal court to find county commissioners in Maryland in contempt and fine them $10,000 per prayer for continuing to allow prayers in Jesus’ name despite a court order.
As previously reported, U.S. District Court Judge William D. Quarles, Jr., who was appointed to the bench by then-President George W. Bush issued a preliminary injunction last week against sectarian prayers by Carroll County Commissioners in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Humanist Association (AHA). The group had asserted that the Christian invocations violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which declares that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
“[Commissioners must not invoke] the name of a specific deity associated with any specific faith or belief,” Quarles ruled.
But Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier said during the county meeting last Thursday that the judge’s order is “an infringement on [her] First Amendment rights of free speech and religion,” and refused to stop using the name of Jesus even if it means being placed behind bars.
“I’m willing to go to jail over it,” Frazier declared. “[I]f we cease to believe that our rights come from God, we cease to be America. We’ve been told to be careful. But we’re going to be careful all the way to communism if we don’t start standing up and saying ‘no.’”
She then read a prayer that she stated had been written by George Washington.
The AHA then threatened to seek contempt charges if Frazier or others with the commission continued to defy the order by delivering sectarian invocations.
On Tuesday, the commission presented a prayer without references to a specific deity, but during the public comment session, one area resident spoke out against the court ruling and began praying in the name of Jesus. AHA then asked Judge Quarles to fine the commission $10,000 for each sectarian prayer presented in contempt of the court.
“We regret this action had to be taken, but the commissioners have now broken the law twice,” AHA attorney Monica Miller said in statement. “We thought Commissioner Frazier’s recitation of a sectarian prayer was a one-time incident. It’s now clear that she and the other Carroll County commissioners insist on continuing the practice of sectarian prayers at board meeting regardless of the court order.”
But the resident, Bruce Holstein, a former employee at the U.S. printing office and current treasurer for Commissioner Richard Rothchild’s election campaign, said that no one with the county asked him to pray.
“Nobody authorized me to do anything,” he stated. “I did it on my own.”
As previously reported, a city councilman in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio is similarly refusing to stop praying in Jesus’ name despite complaints and demands from a prominent atheist activist organization.
“If I, as a Christian, am embarrassed to share his name, then He is going to be embarrassed in recognizing me in my relationship with him,” declared Councilman Terry Mader last month.