In this land of ours, the relationship between religion and politics is complex.
We began with the establishment of colonies in the New World, by various European powers. Typically, colonists had no history of religious toleration and plenty of history of religious persecution of one faith by another.
The Maryland Crown Colony Patent was granted to George Calvert, Lord Baltimore, a prominent Roman Catholic, as a refuge for his coreligionists. In the decades that followed, the question of religious tolerance in Maryland was tested more than once, sometimes with bloodshed.
When representatives of the colonies met in the first Continental Congress, the usual practice of a clergyman offering prayer was proposed.
But members from southern colonies objected because of the diversity of the Congress — Anglicans, Puritans, Quakers, even a Roman Catholic.
Samuel Adams rose to the occasion, saying, "I am no bigot. I can hear a prayer from a man of piety and virtue, who, at the same time, is a friend to his country."
In the constitution itself there are two references to religion, both aimed at the abuses in the history of England. Article VI states that no religious test be applied to any candidate for public office.
The First Amendment forbids both the establishment of an official state religion and also forbids any law prohibiting the free exercise of religion. More tellingly, Thomas Jefferson stated that he intended to erect a "wall of separation between Church and State." And he was a principal writer of the U.S. Constitution.
In government, when you interpret any legislative act you look not only at the letter of the law but for indications of intent. The intent was stated clearly and unambiguously by Jefferson.
Of course, the practice of having a clergyman offer a prayer when a legislative body meets is well established, and that brings us to present-day Carroll County.
The Board of County Commissioners cannot be faulted if they follow that precedent. The separation of church is maintained. More questionable, I think, is the offering of prayer by a commissioner. That blurs the distinction between church and state much, in my opinion.
Similarly, the move to make available rooms in the County Office Building for prayer meetings — as proposed by Commissioner Robin Frazier — opens county government to unnecessary controversy.
It's not illegal.
But what if a radical Muslim cleric seeks to borrow a room for Friday prayers? If a Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transexual group seeks a room, will they be welcomed?
Commissioners must act within the law — but in many instances, mere legality is not enough. They must also act with discretion. There are plenty of houses of worship in Carroll County; and there is always the option of private prayer.
It seems to me that this unneeded controversy is not sensitive to the needs of citizens of whatever faith — or no faith at all.
I recall that in her first term of office a decade ago, Frazier proposed a ban on youth sports contests on Sunday morning. At the time, she was quoted in the Baltimore Sun, saying, "I see the faith community as a big player in a collaborative effort to promote family values, morals and principles. ... I don't want to compete with the ability of the faith community to play its role."
But it's a fact that a shortage of playing fields makes some games on Sunday a practical necessity.
Those who feel the strain on religious commitments could follow the example of Sandy Koufax, who declined his starting assignment in the first game of the World Series because it fell on the Jewish Sabbath.
When it comes to matters of faith, there is no question and no qualm that elected officials rely upon faith for many decision.
Yet we expect officials, including our commissioners, to perform their duties in a neutral manner.
We elected them to a political position, not a religious one.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun