ROBIN Bartlett Frazier, above, a former member of the Carroll County Board of Commissioners Maryland, is not a happy bunny.
The devout Christian is more than a little dismayed that board, which has been involved in a protracted legal battle with the American Humanist Association over Christian prayers at public meetings, has finally buckled, agreeing to halt the prayers and to pay the AHA and other plaintiffs $25,000.
In March 2014, US District Court Judge William D Quarles, Jr, issued an injunction against the practice, writing:
The record indicates that the prayers invoked by commissioners before board meetings advance one religion to the exclusion of others.
There was, he noted:
A lack of reference to other deities. The public interest will be served by enjoining the board from its unconstitutional practice of allowing repeated sectarian references in its legislative prayers.
But Frazier refused to stop praying the name of Jesus, remarking that she was willing to even go to jail for her faith.
She declared at one budget meeting:
If we cease to believe that our rights come from God, we cease to be America. 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’.
At the end of August the Carroll County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to settle the lawsuit out of concern over the legal costs for taxpayers should the county lose.
But some, including Frazier urged the board to continue to fight. She said:
It shouldn’t be about the budget, it should be about the fundamental rights of First Amendment rights. And it’s not just religion … but it’s really free speech,
Frazier was also among those residents that protested the decision outside of the county office building, holding a sign that read “Freedom of speech includes the word Jesus”. Others held signs that read “Forced silence is not freedom of speech” and “Our founding fathers prayed in Jesus name; why not now?”
Frazier said that if the county is really worried about money, she will personally chip in toward the cost.
I’m willing to put up my house as collateral or whatever needs to be done to have an escrow account ready.
The settlement was signed by Judge Stephanie Gallagher, and prohibits:
Any prayer to be delivered by a public official or public employee at any public meeting.
It notes that prayer:
Does not include a moment of silence or secular invocation.
The county also agreed to pay AHA and the four other plaintiffs in the case $125,000 within 60 days as part of the settlement.
One of the plaintiffs in the case, Catholic Bruce Hake, said he opposed:
The ostentatious right-wing evangelical-style prayers because they’re hostile to my own Christian faith.
The AHA says on its website:
On September 10, 2019, the judge in our longstanding legislative prayer case in Carroll County, Maryland, signed the settlement agreement, bringing the lawsuit to a close. The agreement firmly establishes the wall of separation between church and state at Carroll County Board of Commissioners meetings by permanently preventing commissioners from delivering prayers at the opening of commission meetings. The American Humanist Association is thrilled with the resolution of this case and will continue to work to protect religious freedom for all across the country. View the final consent decree here.
The organisation pointed out that:
Since 2010, Carroll County has opened official county board meetings with a prayer delivered by one of the five elected commissioners on a rotating basis.
Monica Miller, Legal Director and Senior Counsel at the AHA said:
Carroll County’s prayers unconstitutionally wrapped the power and prestige of the government around the personal religious beliefs of elected officials. The Supreme Court and the Fourth Circuit long made clear that elected officials cannot constitutionally lead the public in prayers as part of official activities.
The AHA said that, beyond permanently enjoining Carroll County officials from delivering legislative prayers, the decree will also award plaintiffs nominal damages and fees. In addition to the American Humanist Association, the plaintiffs include Bruce Hake, Neil Ridgely, Lauren Graybill, and Judy Smith, all local residents.