Readers Respond

Free speech challenged in Carroll [Letter]

I read the article, "Prayer case plaintiffs file for contempt" (April 3) with great interest since it quotes Bruce Holstein's comments at a Carroll County Commissioners meeting regarding a federal court injunction that temporarily bars the commissioners from reciting sectarian prayers at their meetings.

Mr. Holstein is a devout Catholic, and he is also my brother. Many devout worshipers, whether they be Christian, Jewish, Muslim or of other faiths, do not leave their religion at the door of the church, synagogue, mosque or temple after religious services end. Rather, they live their religion each and every day. And the First Amendment guarantees their right to do so.


Attorneys for the American Humanist Association have sought contempt proceedings against the county commissioners due to Commissioner Robin Frazier's prior violation of the court's injunction and Mr. Holstein's comments, which they view as a second violation that warrants contempt proceedings. The First Amendment provides, in pertinent part, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech.…" The request for contempt proceedings demonstrates just how little regard the AHA has for the First Amendment: "The defendants [county commissioners] authorized a citizen to deliver a sectarian Christian prayer at their official Board meeting," the organization's attorneys wrote. "There is no question the Defendants had the authority to stop this person from delivering a prayer at their Board meeting."

Really? Beyond the general authorization that allows any citizen to speak during the public comment period, there was no specific authorization relevant to Mr. Holstein's comments. Moreover, had the commissioners stopped him from speaking because his comments included a brief prayer, they would have been in violation of his First Amendment rights by "abridging (his) freedom of speech" and "prohibiting (his) free exercise" of religion. Despite the fact that Mr. Holstein spoke on his own initiative as a private citizen, not as a representative of the commissioners, attorneys for the AHA would happily suppress his right to do so simply because they disapprove of the content of his comments.


It is extremely alarming that the AHA has effectively requested a federal court to suppress individuals' free speech rights by fining the Board of County Commissioners $30,000 for "two" violations and imposing a future $10,000 fine any time a private citizen refers to Jesus during the public comment period.

David Holstein, Parkville


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