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