In a lawsuit over prayers at the beginning of meetings in the Carroll County Board of Commissioners, a federal judge recently issued a preliminary injunction against the practice while the case is being heard. One of those commissioners, Robin Bartlett Frazier, decided to make a big public show of what I’m sure she believed to be courage and ended up displaying her ignorance instead.
Carroll County Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier opened up Thursday morning’s Carroll County Board of Commissioners budget meeting with a prayer containing references to Jesus Christ despite a federal judge’s order that the commissioners temporarily stop opening its meetings with sectarian prayers to Jesus Christ until he determines the final result of a lawsuit against the county.
Frazier, who seemed near tears, began the meeting by expressing her displeasure with the judge’s ruling. Frazier, R-District 1, said she was willing to go to jail to fight the preliminary injunction ruling.
“If we cease to believe that our rights come from God, we cease to be America,” Frazier said. “We’ve been told to be careful. But we’re going to be careful all the way to Communism if we don’t start standing up and saying ‘no.’”
She then proceeded to quote a prayer that she said was by George Washington, which included references to Jesus Christ, Lord, our Father, merciful father and the Holy Spirit.
There’s just one problem: George Washington never said that prayer. It comes from a book that no serious historian believes came from Washington.
The words come from a book commonly called “Washington’s Prayer Journal” though its actual title is “The Daily Sacrifice.” The work has been claimed a product of Washington’s youth, up to age 20, which alone might render it irrelevant even if genuine—for it is Washington’s mature adult views on religion that should logically interest us the most.
The original document is handwritten, numbering twenty-four pages in a pocket memo book. Nothing on the item indicates that it belonged to George Washington. But after Lawrence Washington, a descendant, found it in an old trunk in 1890, he gave specialists a chance to look at it. Historian Franklin Steiner would later write in 1936, “Worthington C. Ford, who had handled more of Washington’s manuscripts than any other man except Washington himself, declared that the penmanship was not that of Washington.” Moreover, Washington was notorious as a poor speller, yet the spelling in the prayer book is quite correct.
The document was also submitted to the Smithsonian, where the handwriting was again analyzed, along with other characteristics. The manuscript was rejected once more for not being authentic. Later, Dr. W.A. Croffutt, a Washington D.C. newspaper correspondent, put the final nail in the coffin when he traced some of the prayers back at least to the reign of the English King James I, who died 107 years before George Washington was born.
Actually, there’s one other problem with this stunt and it’s one that we hear often from the Christian right. They like trying to disguise their religious declarations with a thin veneer of history. They put up a Ten Commandments monument and claim that they’re just honoring the history of law rather than making an explicitly religious declaration. Even if Washington did say or write that prayer, it has absolutely nothing to do with the constitutional questions in the case.