Carroll County, Maryland Employees ‘Urged’ to Attend Religious Training

The board of Carroll County, Maryland, has created a very ironic situation.

County employees have been “urged” to attend a training course centered on the Maryland Constitution. Legally, they’re doing fine to this point. The irony comes from who is presenting the course: The Institute on the Constitution. They champion what it calls the “American View” of the state’s constitution. This view, according to their site, is “There is a God, the God of the Bible. Our rights come from Him. The purpose of civil government is to secure these God-given rights.”  

In other words, this is a Constitution course that violates the Constitution.

The American View

The board president, Doug Howard, insists that the action of the board to fund this training for county employees does not violate the federal constitution:

Carroll County Board President Doug Howard

The constitution prohibits the establishment of a state religion but it does not say we can’t make references to God. Ours is not a godless society. If the teacher acknowledges our foundation with historical accuracy, that is OK. If he espouses religion, then I would be concerned.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution doesn’t ban references to God, according to the U.S. Supreme Court. What is not allowed is government endorsement of religion. This sort of language, though, sounds familiar. Those who want to use the government as a tool of religion seem to think that the Establishment Clause is only violated if Congress declares that there is a “Church of America” in the tradition of the Church of England. Not so. The tearing down of the wall between church and state happens in small steps like this.

Apparently Mr. Howard didn’t take so much as a glance at the “Institute on the Constitution” website. It’s pretty difficult to believe that an organization which proclaims divine origins of rights in such absolute terms is interested in offering a secular course. The website for the course goes on to say:

Briefly stated, “The American View” of government is that there is a God, the God of the Bible, our rights come from Him, and the purpose of civil government is to secure our rights.

There are many views of government, from equally numerous world views. Americans are blessed that our Founders’ Biblical Worldview informed their political philosophy and the framing of our founding documents.

Having not taken their course, I cannot say with certainty that it contains the same assertions. It seems safe to say, though, that the course would be unacceptably religious in nature. If the above statement on the website contained the (truthful) statement that some framers of Maryland’s government probably held religious views, that would be one thing. It could be part of a history course. But that’s not the case at all. The course is literally offered under a banner which proclaims the existence and dominance of a god.

Another county commissioner, practicing attorney Haven Shoemaker said, “I don’t know the specifics, but if it’s an objective course, I don’t object.” It’s hard to understand what the commissioners would view as not objective. Another irony is that the Maryland Constitution actually states in its Declaration of Rights that “all Government of right originates from the People.”

So not only is the course factually inaccurate about the foundations of Maryland government, it goes against the foundations of our republic. No person should be compelled to attend religious indoctrination as part of their employment, public employee or not. Even if the course is not technically compulsory, its availability on the taxpayer dime is offensive to the First Amendment and no taxpayer dollars should be funding such indoctrination.

The Lemon test prohibits any government action which advances religion. Based on my perusal of the available information, the county’s action to pay for this course constitutes advancement of Christianity. As such, it’s clearly unconstitutional.

About Carrie

Carrie Clark is a lawyer in Illinois. The opinions herein are that of the author only. Any information in this post is for discussion purposes only, and is not offered as legal advice.

  • http://twitter.com/arensb arensb

    The Maryland Constitution as originally written is an explicitly-religious document, if not an explicitly-Christian one: the Declaration of Rights begins,

    We, the People of the State of Maryland, grateful to Almighty God for
    our civil and religious liberty, and taking into our serious
    consideration the best means of establishing a good Constitution in this
    State for the sure foundation and more permanent security thereof,
    declare

    Article 36 says:

    as it is the duty of every man to worship God in such
    manner as he thinks most acceptable to Him, all persons are equally
    entitled to protection in their religious liberty [...] nor shall any person, otherwise competent, be deemed
    incompetent as a witness, or juror, on account of his religious belief;
    provided, he believes in the existence of God, and that under His
    dispensation such person will be held morally accountable for his acts,
    and be rewarded or punished therefor
    either in this world or in the
    world to come.

    And Article 37:

    Art. 37. That no religious test ought ever to be
    required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this
    State, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God

    This last article was challenged in Torcaso v. Watkins, which found those sorts of state constitution rules to be unconstitutional.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_V32DQNET4GZYQLI6SWZUZ2KM2M TotalMonkey

      arensb: As a MD resident, I was going to bring up Articles 36 and 37 to show how I have less rights than a theist; so you beat me to the punch. Also, with regards to Torcaso v. Watkins: despite the federal Supreme Court’s ruling, the state *has not* amended its bigotous constitution to date. “Civil and religious liberty,” indeed!

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=628665833 Bill Santagata

        They don’t need to. It would be nice if they did, but that provision is unenforceable whether it is on the books or not.

    • Mdatheist

      You beat me to it! The trouble is that the offensive clauses in Maryland’s Constitution are still there, 50 years after the Supreme Court ruled them invalid. And some of the locals are not so educated on the Torcaso case. They still like to throw article 36 in your face if you talk about atheism. This board of commissioners are a bunch of tea partiers

  • chicago dyke, venomous lesbian

    may i gently disagree? in that sense that i understand the ‘logic’ this guy is applying here. “god is real” is the fundie version of “we have both kinds, country and western!” see, muslims and jews and those funny brown people from india all talk about “god” so it’s like, totally inclusive and diverse to put him into civic documents! and ok for the government to talk about, because “everyone” is being respected. altho i’m sure this guy would love to see the establishment of the xtian theocracy here, and is working towards that goal in this seminar, i think he thinks of himself differently, in the sense that in “god’s america” there’d be a quaker and a muslim or two, because we’re a diverse nation, see. 

    i really wish i knew how to kill the meme ‘the founders were southern baptists who loved jeebus above all things.’ i just watched a bio of Jefferson recently, and was struck by how not into religion he was, again. flawed but fascinating, that man. it’s just offensive that the fundies want to claim him as one of theirs. 

  • Ggsillars

    This kind of thing is what the ACLU and the FFRF are for.  And boy are they busy.

  • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

    Things have reached the point where, on any occasion I hear someone talk about “teaching the Constitution,” I assume what they really want is to teach their own subjective views about the Constitution. In other words, they’ve melded the “Constitutional” with the “meta-Constitutional.” In the case of fundies, this isn’t too much of a stretch for them; they already confuse “the Bible” with their beliefs about the Bible, to the point where they think the Bible says things that it does not actually say.

  • Skye Ryder

    Don’t these idiots understand that separation of church and state protects their freedom of religion? If we didn’t have that rule, then any religion could be taught in the schools. It’s crazy! How dare they speak for me and my right to believe what I want to?


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