CARROLL COUNTY, Md. — A federal judge in Maryland has lifted a ban on prayers in Jesus’ name during Carroll County Commissioner’s meetings following a recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court declaring such invocations lawful.
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 in March 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 was “an infringement on [her] First Amendment rights of free speech and religion,” and refused to stop using the name of Jesus even if it meant 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.’”
The AHA then threatened to seek contempt charges if Frazier or others with the commission continued to defy the order by delivering sectarian invocations. In April, 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.
Days later, the commission narrowly voted 3-2 to follow Quarles’ order and stop offering prayers in Jesus’ name, at least while the case moved forward in court or until the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling regarding a similar matter.
But last week, Quarles lifted the injunction after the nation’s highest court ruled that sectarian prayers are historical and do not violate the federal Constitution.
Commissioner Haven Shoemaker applauded both Quarles’ and the Supreme Court’s decision.
“It demonstrates the time-honored tradition, going back to the days of the founders, of the notion of legislative prayer,” he said. “I was happy with the decision. I think it’s one that we anticipated.”
On Tuesday, the Carroll County Commissioners opened their meeting in prayer—in Jesus’ name. Although commissioners take turns delivering the invocation each week, this time the responsibility once again fell to Frazier, who spoke boldly and plainly.
“Dear gracious heavenly Father, I thank You for this day. I thank You for Your provision and Lord, I ask today that You give us wisdom and guidance as we do the work for the people of Carroll County,” she prayed. “Help us to seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly before you, and help us, Lord, to conduct ourselves in a way that is pleasing to You today. And I pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
The AHA lawsuit is still pending as Quarles has yet to issue a final decision.