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Kennedy: Those criticizing commissioners on prayer settlement are missing the point

I think that I’ll put in my two cents’ worth ⁠— and it may be worth less than that to many ⁠— on the too-long-continuing brouhaha that to me is, as Shakespeare wrote, “Much Ado About Nothing.”

I speak about the settlement of the suit against Carroll County regarding the commissioner-led prayers during the period of the 59th board.

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What those who are castigating the current board — and President Stephen Wantz in particular, urged on by two members of that 59th board — are not understanding, or possibly ignoring, is that the court decision in question does not prevent anyone from praying before, during — as long as it doesn’t disrupt the proceedings — or after any meeting of the Board of Commissioners. All the decision says is, as I understand it, that the commissioners, either individually or as a body, shall not lead the prayers.

The two former commissioners who are the most vocal against the settlement are Richard Rothschild, who seems to find something that goes against his interpretation of the U.S. Constitution at almost every turn, and Robin Bartlett Frazier, who seeks to find some way to inject her religious views on most issues. Katherine Adelaide, a member of the Republican Central Committee and a one of Ms. Frazier’s cadre of supporters, has also been very outspoken in her disagreement with the current commissioners’ decision.

As noted in several articles in this paper, the 59th Board of Commissioners was the first in memory to have one of the board members lead an opening prayer. In my more than 30 years as a county resident I can’t remember if there was even a moment of silence, as is the current practice, before the commissioners’ meetings prior to the 59th board beginning their prayers.

Many governmental bodies, including both houses of Congress, begin their sessions with prayer. Congress has a chaplain who provides the service. The Maryland Senate, according to a letter from Del. Haven Shoemaker and Sen. Justin Ready, invites a clergyman to ask for divine guidance. As noted in that same letter, the House of Delegates has a member of that body lead the prayer.

If the current board or any future board wishes to begin their meetings with some sort of open prayer, all they would have to do would be to invite a clergyman of one of the variety of faiths with congregations in the county to give the invocation. Maybe a volunteer, or even a paid, clergyman could be named as commission chaplain. Either of those would be in keeping with the letter and spirit of the 1st Amendment.

I agree that the board was very deliberative and sound in their decision to settle the suit due to the previous decision by the appellate court decision in an almost identical case from North Carolina. The probable cost to the county in losing at the appeals court level — or if considered by the Supreme Court — simply, in this case, isn’t worth the risk. The settlement of $125,000 was a hit on the county’s budget. What programs or services would lose part, or all, of their funding if the case were to be appealed and the current verdict was upheld? Conservative estimates are that the county could be on the hook for at least twice the settlement amount, or even more if by some miracle the Supreme Court would hear the case and uphold the current verdict.

To reiterate, the district court ruling does not prevent prayer, of any kind, in any place, as long as it is not led by an elected official acting in an official capacity.

As I have said for a very long time, I don’t care if you pray to God, Allah, Yahweh, Jehova, Krishna, The Great Spirit or any other diety, You’re all talking to the same guy.

The Constitution gives us all the freedom to pray, or not, without interference by any level of government.

Bill Kennedy writes every other week from Taneytown. You may contact him via email at wlkennedyiii@verizon.net.

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