I’m not a lawyer, but let me give you a little free legal advice anyway: It’s never a good idea to defy a federal judge’s ruling.
A member of the Carroll County Board of Commissioners in Maryland may be about to learn that the hard way. Robin Frazier opened a meeting last week with a prayer that included a reference to Jesus Christ – even though the county is under court order to stop using sectarian prayers.
The board’s prayer practice was challenged in court by local residents represented by the American Humanist Association. U.S. District Court Judge William D. Quarles Jr. recently ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and issued an injunction ordering the county to stop using prayers that reference Christ or other specific deities while the lawsuit continues.
In many ways, the lawsuit is the result of changes in the county. Formerly a rural enclave, Carroll County has been growing lately, becoming more suburban and something of a bedroom community for Baltimore. That growth has brought more religious diversity. Some commissioners don’t want to acknowledge that.
“I am willing to go to jail,” Frazier said. “If we cease to believe our rights came from God, we cease to be America. And we’ve been told to ‘be careful,’ but we’re going to be careful all the way to communism, and I say no to this ruling.”
Frazier opened the meeting with a prayer she said came from George Washington’s prayer journal. A local newspaper reported that the prayer included “references to Jesus Christ, Lord, our Father, merciful father and the Holy Spirit.”
It turns out Frazier couldn’t even get that right. While the prayer journal was found among the papers of a descendent of Washington, historians have concluded that it’s not in his handwriting.
“It is also far too pious for Washington,” John Fea, chair of the History Department at Messiah College, told the Carroll County Times. “In fact, ... George Washington only referenced Jesus Christ twice in all his extant writings and neither of them were in a prayer. This commissioner was not praying the words of George Washington.”
So what happens now? Not surprisingly, the American Humanist Association is none too happy with Frazier’s stunt. On March 27, the group’s attorneys sent a sharply worded letter to the lawyers representing the county warning them that if this happens again, they will seek a contempt of court order.
Frazier probably enjoys thinking of herself as a martyr. She very likely raised the specter of going to jail because it raises an image that resonates well with her supporters – Christians are being imprisoned because they dared to pray in public!
But jail is not the only option open to the court. A financial penalty would be more likely. If that happens, it should give Frazier’s backers pause. They may want to think twice about her course of action once they are stuck paying the bill for her recalcitrance.
Frazier may see herself as a martyr. She’s not. She’s merely someone who is defying the rule of the law. That’s nothing to be proud of.