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Rothschild: Opponents wrong regarding legislative prayer issue

Recent articles supporting the Commissioners’ decision to surrender First Amendment prayer rights contain flawed assumptions.

The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech.”

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In the recent Supreme Court Case, Greece v. Galloway, Justice Thomas argued, “the case should be dismissed because the Establishment Clause doesn’t apply to the states and its subdivisions, but only to Congress.” In other words, issuing a sectarian prayer does not rise to the threshold of violating the Establishment Clause.

In Carroll County, for 8 years, two commissioners occasionally closed a prayer in the name of Christ, Jesus, or Savior. However, commissioners were careful to ensure their prayers never violated guidelines that would render their prayers constitutionally problematic.

Although a recent editorial in the Sun touches on some of these guidelines, it drew faulty conclusions, by simply assuming they were violated by Carroll County. They weren’t.

For example. Justice Kennedy wrote, “Legislative bodies do not engage in impermissible coercion merely by exposing constituents to prayer they would rather not hear and in which they need not participate.”

In Carroll County, no citizen was ever asked to bow their heads, pray, or otherwise participate. Instead, the chair would simply say, “Commissioner, your turn to pray.” Additionally, our prayers never used the pronoun “we”, but were delivered in the first-person. i.e. Dear Lord, I come to you today. The key pronoun being “I”, to avoid inferring we speak for all citizens.

Second, Kennedy wrote, “Absent a pattern of prayers that over time denigrate, proselytize, or betray an impermissible government purpose, a challenge based solely on the content of a particular prayer will not likely establish a constitutional violation.”

In 8 years, no commissioner ever issued a prayer that was proselytizing in nature. All prayers were generic in nature. For example, “Dear Lord. I come to you on behalf of this Board of Commissioners, and ask for your guidance that we might make good decisions on behalf of all of the people of Carroll County. I offer this prayer in Jesus’ name. Amen.” Divisive? Proselytizing? Hardly.

Third, in Greece v. Galloway, the majority held sectarian prayers at government meetings are permissible under the Constitution: “To hold that invocations must be non-sectarian would force the legislatures sponsoring prayers and the courts deciding these cases to act as supervisors and censors of religious speech.” This case is mostly about censoring three words “Christ, Jesus, and Savior.”

Fourth, there was no “pattern of prayers that over time … betray an impermissible government purpose”.

Only two of five commissioners (at most) referenced the name of Christ, Jesus, or Savior. The majority of prayers contained no such references.

What now?

The 3rd Circuit; 6th Circuit; and the Supreme Court have already affirmed non-proselytizing prayers do not rise to the threshold of “establishing” a religion. Yet, the liberal 4th Circuit continues to thread-the-needle in an apparent attempt to block officials from issuing prayers containing references to Christ, Jesus, or Savior, regardless of how neutral the prayer itself might be.

This raises a question. Why do Christian officials pray in Jesus’s name?

Matthew 10:33 states, “But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father. And, John 14:6 states, “The only way to the Father is through the Son." If Judeo-Christian officials cave-in to atheists, and ban the words Christ, Jesus, and Savior from our prayer, it is censorship pure and simple. No other deities are banned.

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Downside: If the county loses, damages would be less than the cost of a single turf field. Although the case is difficult, and there is no guarantee the Supreme Court will accept an appeal, the issue is too important to surrender.

Upside: On the positive side, the fact pattern and precedence weighs heavily on our side. Legal fees for the past 8 years have cost taxpayers zero, and we will continue to have free legal representation moving forward. The growing fissure between the Judicial Circuits increases the chance SCOTUS would engage.

What can you do? Call the commissioners at 410-386-2043 and tell them, “Silencing prayer is the ultimate censorship. Don’t surrender this case.”

Richard Rothschild is a retired Carroll County commissioner.

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