In January 2014, I sat in the United States District Court in Baltimore and listened to arguments in a prayer case against the all Republican Board of Carroll County Commissioners.
The complaint was initiated by two individuals that are former and current members of the Carroll County Democratic Central Committee. They allege sectarian prayers are offered that violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
This case raises many interesting questions.
Do officials lose the right to pray as they deem appropriate, based on their belief and conscience, and do political enemies have the right to censor officials' prayers based on terms they simply claim are offensive? Does the Constitution guarantee protection from being "offended?" Heck, there isn't a day in my life where I am not offended by the left's liberal secular agenda. In fact, I would argue that their so called "Green" agenda is in itself a form of religion known as pantheism; in truth, the only official state sponsored, state sanctioned religion (forgive me, I digress.)
Of notable interest: The Plaintiffs claim the commissioners' prayers are "sectarian." However, a review of prayer content akin to the following indicates they are nearly all secular, with virtually no references to Sscripture. For example, Dear Lord, I ask for your guidance and wisdom that we may make wise decisions on behalf of the people of Carroll County… I offer this prayer to my personal Savior. Amen.
Divisive? Objectionable? Exclusionary?
In the complaint, one of the Plaintiffs states he "…objects to the Sectarian Prayers on religious grounds. He is a religious Roman Catholic, and he believes the Sectarian Prayers violate his First Amendment rights to religious liberty by advancing a version of Christianity that is historically anti-Catholic."
Some officials close their prayers with the salutation, "In Jesus name, I pray." However, I am friends with many Catholics, and have never been told by any of them that the terms, "Jesus" or "Personal savior" are offensive. Are the complainants being forthright when they claim their religious liberties are being violated, or are they simply fabricating a complaint because they do not expect the veracity of their allegations to be challenged?
No one in our government hearing room is asked to stand, kneel, bow, or participate in any way. So, this raises interesting questions: Does closing a secular prayer with a first-person reference to Christ or Savior automatically turn a secular prayer into a sectarian prayer, and is this a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment?
Does simply closing a secular prayer with the salutation, "I offer this prayer in the name of my personal savior," or, "I offer this prayer in the name of my personal Savior, Jesus Christ," rise to the threshold of a violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution?
This is a serious issue, because it raises the question, "Do courts have the power to dictate to which deity a prayer should be delivered?" If so, will the court, in effect, dictate how to pray?
Another dilemma arose during the trial. The First Amendment states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." Assuming this applies to local government, wouldn't Article 1 Section 6 also apply to local governments?
Article 1 Section 6 says,
"They (elected officials) shall in all cases, except treason, felony and breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest during their attendance at the session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any speech or debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other place."
In other words, officials cannot be questioned or tried for statements made during official meetings of the legislature. Period.
Our attorneys argued that Article 1 Section 6 provides immunity, and went so far as to cite examples where other elected officials made incriminating admissions about themselves, but the Supreme Court consistently ruled that statements made in session were protected speech and thereby not admissible as evidence.
This clearly raises an interesting question. If speeches and admissions to involvement in criminal activity are protected, doesn't it follow that a prayer must also be protected?
But, hold on to your seat. It gets more interesting…
Article 36 of the Maryland Constitution, Declaration of Rights states,
"Nothing shall prohibit or require the making reference to belief in, reliance upon, or invoking the aid of God or a Supreme Being in any governmental or public document, proceeding, activity, ceremony, school, institution, or place."
Will the Maryland Constitution simply be discarded when it inconveniently collides with political correctness?
If the words, "Christ" and "Savior" can be censored, where will the courts try to draw the line? What else can and will be censored?
Will elected officials be allowed to say, "I pray Fidel Castro will have mercy on our prisoners," but be prohibited from saying, "I pray Jesus Christ will have mercy on our prisoners?" Ahhh... the long slippery slope of censorship.
Clearly, the implications of this suit could be serious. In the process of trying to weave a rubric to ban certain words, the Courts now find themselves in the censorship business, and in direct conflict with other sections of the United States Constitution.
If Christ and Savior are to be censored, exactly to whom, are we supposed to deliver our prayers?
Matthew 10:32 states, "Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. 33 But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven."
Christ explains in John 14:6, "No one comes to the Father except through me."
If the courts tell us to whom we may not pray, are they not establishing a form of secular religion as the standard? May an atheist pray to Mr. Nobody? Is that okay? Sadly, based on current judicial review, the answer might be "Yes."
I, for one, will likely not pray in a way that forces me to deny Christ. However, in the event the court opinion is unfavorable to us, I will likely read a firm statement to the public each time it is my turn to pray. Unfortunately, I predict, with a fairly high level of certainty, that those who are suing will find my statement infinitely more "objectionable" than any prayer.
The stakes are high. I ask everyone to pray for the following:
- For wisdom by the Court in the case pending against the Carroll County Board of Commissioners;
- For wisdom in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Greece vs. Galloway to be adjudicated this summer. This case could forever affirm or destroy our ability to invoke the name of "Christ" or "Savior" in any government proceedings;
- For restraint by the justices, that they will decide against censoring prayer in government. The First Amendment states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." Please pray that the justices will recognize the fact that secular prayers of local official, delivered to a deity of personal choice hardly rise to the prohibited threshold of Congress "establishing a religion."
Interested parties may want to briefly read the complaint in this case, and decide for yourself what is behind this complaint. Click this link to read the actual complaint.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article reflect only the author's, in his individual official capacity as a Commissioner, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the entire Board of Commissioners
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