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 month against sectarian prayers by Carroll County Commissioners. The American Humanist Association (AHA) had filed a lawsuit asserting 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 next county meeting 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. Last week, 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.
On Tuesday, the commission narrowly voted 3-2 to follow Quarles’ order and stop offering prayers in Jesus’ name, at least while the case moves forward in court or until the Supreme Court issues a ruling regarding a similar matter. The two commissioners that voted against the motion were Robin Bartlett Frazier and Richard Rothschild.
Rothschild presented a short exhortation to those gathered.
“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,” he declared. “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.”
As part of the resolution, only Board President Dave Roush will present the invocations at public meetings, and while he may still refer to “God,” “Heavenly Father,” “God of Abraham,” or similar phrases, he will not use the name of Jesus.