Amid a storm over prayer at government meetings, Carroll County Commissioner Robin Frazier leaned back in a carved wooden rocking chair in the Taneytown public library and quietly gave voice to her fears about the direction of the country.
What happened to freedom of speech and the biblical principles the United States was founded upon, she asked a handful of constituents who gathered for one of her monthly discussions Saturday. The current commissioners, all voted into office in 2010, decided that they would open their meetings with prayers because "we believe that guidance from God would be a good thing in making the decisions before us," Frazier said.
"For me, it was about freedom and upholding my oath that I would follow the Constitution," she said Saturday. "Are we free to speak or not?"
Last month, a federal judge barred Carroll County's commissioners from invoking Jesus Christ in their pre-meeting prayers. The day after, Frazier recited a prayer before the meeting that included the name of Jesus. She could be held in contempt of court for violating the preliminary injunction issued by U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles Jr. in a case brought by residents who believe the prayers exclude those who do not share Frazier's beliefs.
In a letter to the board's lawyers, the plaintiffs said they would seek contempt charges if Frazier continued to invoke Jesus during her prayers. She has said she is willing to go to jail over the matter. She argues that her prayer is a recitation of a speech given by George Washington, but some historical experts have disputed that the words are indeed Washington's.
In a wide-ranging discussion Saturday, Frazier and five residents of the largely Republican county spoke of their confusion over shifts in public opinion. For example, some wondered how other Americans have embraced measures like a recently passed Maryland General Assembly bill to extend protections to those who are transgender. Frazier referred to it as the "Bathroom Bill," as have other critics, and said she fears it will now encourage sexual predators to enter bathrooms.
"Unfortunately as a society we're being pressured to accept these things, and if we don't accept these things, then they say we're bigoted," said Carmen Amedori, a Republican former state delegate who is again running for a House of Delegates seat.
Dwayne Rogerson told Frazier that he supported her and that she should continue to pray before meetings.
"We've been told by the media that we're a minority," said Rogerson, 51, referring to Christians. "I've never seen anyone on their death bed at the hospital that didn't believe in God."
Ellen Morse, however, said she thought the commissioners ought to stick to local issues and not get so involved in state and federal matters like prayer at meetings.
"I get frustrated at the amount of time spent in the county on these things that the county doesn't have the power to change," said Morse, 53.
Frazier, whose prayers got attention in the national news media, said she felt the issue was just one in which the federal and state governments are overreaching into local affairs, citing the Common Core curriculum and state stormwater fees as examples.
"I think there is a general feeling in our conservative county that things are going down a different path than was set by our Founding Fathers," she said. "We've been pushing back."
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