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County Commissioners Implement Prayer at Meetings, Offend Some Constituents

At a speaking engagement on Monday, a citizen questioned the idea of opening the County Commissioner meetings with prayer.

An item on the Carroll County Board of Commissioners’ 10 Governing Philosophies has gotten the attention of some in the community, but probably not in the way the commissioners intended.

Upon being sworn into office 100 days ago, the board unveiled its 10 philosophies, including decreasing the size of government, setting term limits and lowering property taxes. No. 6 was probably among the easiest to implement, and the commissioners did so immediately. It reads: “Affirmation of Our Values: This Board of County Commissioners will open its meetings with the Pledge of Allegiance followed by a prayer."

But the action has drawn harsh reaction from some citizens, and board members said Monday they will draw up a formal policy in response to community complaints.

Commissioner Doug Howard said at a speaking engagement at the South Carroll Senior Center that the board is proud to have instituted the pledge and prayer at the beginning of meetings.

But later, a citizen at the meeting questioned the idea, saying it would inherently exclude some residents. The citizen suggested having prayers for different faiths.

"We have to think about what's practical,” responded Howard. “We don't want anyone to be excluded. It [prayers] was intended as a positive thing." 

Howard said the wording of the prayer varies because the task of saying it is rotated among the commissioners. But he conceded that the board needed a formal policy on the issue to address citizen concerns.

"In the next week or so we will discuss and issue a written policy on the issue of prayers," Howard said.

Westminster resident David Grand wrote a letter to the editor, published in the Carroll County Times earlier this month, objecting to the prayer idea, saying it was unconstitutional and reversed the position of an earlier board that “commissioners’ meetings are not the place to publicly promote religious beliefs through prayers."

In a letter published in the same newspaper on March 15, Bruce Hake of Union Bridge wrote, "It's good to see recent letters criticizing the Board of Commissioners for using explicitly sectarian prayers in public meetings. That is plainly unconstitutional and un-American. It's also un-Christian. Jesus Himself said that only hypocrites ostentatiously pray in public. (Matt. 6:5-7). As a religious Catholic, I'm in favor of prayer. But I'm opposed to the illegal and disingenuous prayers now being employed by the county's leaders. To any Christians reading this, just think how you'd feel if the commissioners were praying from the Koran at public meetings."

But another citizen at Monday’s meeting said he was "impressed that the commissioners had the guts to implement the prayer in this climate we live in today." 

ruth March 22, 2011 at 10:55 AM
Prayer is a very personal thing and perhaps a moment of silence would be more appropriate.
Kathy March 22, 2011 at 11:27 AM
Guts to implement prayers? Last I looked, Christians were not be persecuted in this country, and especially in Carroll County, except perhaps in the minds of a few who believe that any attempt to limit proselytizing is persecution. Actually, I think that the guy who brought up the reminder that there are other religions followed here besides Christian is the one with guts in this climate. If they must have prayers, let them rotate each meeting between Christian, Jewish and Muslim.
Tom March 22, 2011 at 11:31 AM
keep up the good work
watchingfive March 22, 2011 at 12:38 PM
Might be best to start the good work first, then keep it up. I haven't seen any good work yet.
Lisa March 22, 2011 at 01:52 PM
It seems to me the ones who are most offended are those who do not engage in prayer. If all the commissioners are Jewish allow them to say a Jewish prayer, if Christian then let it be Christian, if all the commissioners are of different faiths allow each a turn to say an audible prayer. The offense is usually to those who do not pray at all in that case stay out of the room until the prayer is over then join in. Just because someone prays doesn't mean you have to but it would be nice to be respectful. They are the ELECTED leaders if someone doesn't like it vote for someone different.
Kathy March 22, 2011 at 02:13 PM
Elected leaders are supposed to represent all of their constituents--whether Christian, Muslim, or atheist. The idea of an atheist or Muslim being able to be elected to anything in Carroll County is optimism to the point of foolishness, but that doesn't change the fact that in the United States the majority is not entitled to impose their beliefs on the minority. Of course everyone should be respectful of each others religious beliefs, and remain quiet during some one else's prayer, but all of this begs the larger question of why a government meeting is being started with a prayer. No one is preventing the commissioners from praying at home, in church, in the car on the way to the meeting, or even during the meeting to themselves. I just don't see why they feel the need to "say an audible prayer" when they should be conducting public business. I am a churchgoer and pray daily, but I do not engage in audible prayers at work, or if there is the possibility that they may make someone of another faith uncomfortable.
Kristy March 22, 2011 at 05:15 PM
You're wrong, Lisa. The people who are most offended by mandated prayer at the ounty comissioners meeting are those who believe in our Constitution of the United States, which protects are right to worship as we please and insures the separation of church and state. I happen to be a Christian who prays every day. As a taxpayer, I expect our elected officials to keep their religious practices out of our government meetings. Kathleen is right on the money.
watchingfive March 22, 2011 at 05:34 PM
Ditto Kathleen and Kristy. Right on target. I too am a praying Christian who believes it is inappropriate to begin governmental proceedings with a sectarian prayer. Lisa, you have no basis for your assumption that people who disagree with the practice do not pray or lack faith. I can tell you that I know the exact opposite is true.
Dave March 22, 2011 at 07:20 PM
For those who believe that this is unconstitutional, you are wrong. The issue of separation of church and state was based on King Henry's establishment of 'The Church of England.' The king established the Church of England so he could divorce his wife/wives with impunity from the greater church and invoke his (this king's) will on his people. The intent of separation of church and state was to deny the government from establishing its own church, as Henry did. It was NEVER intended to deny the existence of God nor was it intended to deny the nation/people of being governed by those who sought God's will in all they do. Study your history. It prevents you from repeating the mistakes of the past.
Dave March 22, 2011 at 07:24 PM
Kathleen said, "but that doesn't change the fact that in the United States the majority is not entitled to impose their beliefs on the minority." You cannot be that niave.... the majority votes. The outcome has consequences. Just look at the bogus health care law pushed down the throats of the majority. Use facts - not feelings.
Gail March 22, 2011 at 07:28 PM
Hmmmm ... the wording in the Constitution via Amendment I states: " Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise therof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." I'm not sure where it says it is unconstitutional to open a meeting with prayer ... especially in these difficult times to give thanks and petition for help and guidance. I would far rather have our leaders pray than to fly by the seat of their pants. What if I were to be offended by those that want to cast out the prayers? Offering a prayer is harmless. Go back to your History books, this country was founded on Godly values and that's why meetings are opened with a PLEDGE to the flag and a PRAYER to God. Save the taking offense energy for something you can roll your sleeves up and get out and make a difference. Go help an agency that serves the less fortunate in this county. Your energy would be highly useful there.
Dave March 22, 2011 at 07:33 PM
Cheers to Gail! Very true and well said! The establishment of religion was to avoid the "Church of the USA." A church were government was imposing its will - not the will of God.
Kristy March 22, 2011 at 08:24 PM
At times in our nation's history, if the majority had been allowed to rule, slavery would not have been abolished, women would not have obtained the right to vote, and segregated schools would have continued. You may call it naive, but our constitution exists for all, not just the majority. Prayer and reflection can be powerful. What is wrong with having a moment of silence?
Kristy March 22, 2011 at 08:43 PM
And, by the way, Gail, I also do volunteer work in the community. God bless.
Kathy March 22, 2011 at 09:03 PM
I meant to say that the majority is not entitled to impose their "religious" beliefs on the majority. Of course, the majority gets to pick our elected leaders, and they may enact laws that we don't agree with, or impose taxes --or give tax breaks--we don't like, or involve us in a war in which we don't agree. They can even stir up our basest feelings so that we are afraid to try a new system of health care, even when the current system is so obviously floundering. But we were talking about government sponsored prayer, weren't we?
Dave March 22, 2011 at 10:11 PM
kristy - you are making a whopper of an assumption; if the majority had allowed.... the majority voiced its opinion and appropriate and correct changes were made. The majority didn't want suffrage, segregated schools, and so on... The Supreme Court and Congress opens each session with voiced prayer - not silence. Which would you prefer?
Wearedoomedcc March 23, 2011 at 06:02 AM
Get real people. The issue is not whether the BOC should say a prayer when opening a meeting, but the type of prayer said. Dave states "The Supreme Court and Congress opens each session with voiced prayer - not silence." Yes this is true, but their prayer is NON-Sectarian or non-denominational. For those who don't know the meaning of these 2 words....simply put No reference to Jesus or any religion. If this board truly says it stands for and upholds the Constitution, then change the prayer.
Kathy March 23, 2011 at 10:47 AM
That is exactly the point! If they wish to open with a non-denominational prayer, that is their privilege. No one here is objecting to prayer per se, just the use of an exclusionary prayer.
sid March 27, 2011 at 08:47 PM
This is a Christian nation. I am glad they stood for their faith if some one is a atheist they can leave the room and return. If you also believe in Christian values please join us at http://www.facebook.com/?sk=2361831622#!/group.php?gid=97059459144 http://www.protectmarriagemd.org/
Kathy March 27, 2011 at 09:11 PM
This is NOT a Christian Nation. It is a nation of all faiths. If you wish to live in a country where religion matters, there are plenty of others to choose from. Read the constitution. Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and the other Founding Fathers were careful to point out that this is not a Christian nation. That unlike every other country in the world at the time, they were going to make America a nation that had free exercise of religion -- any and all religions. They were not going to let any religion rule the country or identify its inhabitants. The Constitution stands for the premise that all religions are welcome. The whole point of the country was to escape from religious persecution. No one religion can force its views on its citizens, even if that religion is Christianity.
lynne March 28, 2011 at 02:40 AM
"They [preachers] dread the advance of science as witches do the approach of daylight and scowl on the fatal harbinger announcing the subversions of the duperies on which they live." --Thomas Jefferson "I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition (Christianity) one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded on fables and mythology." -- Thomas Jefferson "The clergy believe that any portion of power confided to me will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against any form of tyranny known to the mind of man." --Thomas Jefferson "History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their political as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes." --Thomas Jefferson Those who claim to understand the intentions of our founding fathers have rarely read or studied much of what these men really wrote. No citizen of this county should have to "leave the room" during an open meeting while our elected officials pray.
Lisa March 28, 2011 at 12:50 PM
Are we not imposing our beliefs on our leaders (talk about the majority imposing their beliefs on the minority)? I may be wrong on the assumption that those who are against prayer are not praying people (and if I am -that is even more confusing to me as I always thought that praying people understood the power of prayer regardless of what religion it is) and I never said that they lacked faith. The debate here seems to have turned into a history lesson so here is my interpretation. Many came here to flee religious persecution so that they could worship God or god as they wished. It just so happened that it was those of Christian faith (mind you without regards to the Native Americans who had occupied this land long before that -but that is another topic.) Here is my point: Our elected leaders should have the freedom to pray or not to pray, for those in attendance to join or not join, for it to be audible or silent, for it to be public or private. To force anyone whether to pray or not, how they should pray and to whom they should pray is (dare I say it) unconstitutional. Is that wrong? There are many people I don't agree with when they pray but I don't tell them to stop or that they should pray to whom I believe in. If our elected leaders chose to seek wisdom through prayer then allow them the same rights that our constitution is supposed to ensure.
Lisa March 28, 2011 at 12:55 PM
To those who are offended sorry-but not to allow someone to pray (regardless of where it is or how it is done or to whom the prayer is lifted) I find offensive- so there, we are all offended- that makes us equally offended!
Lisa March 28, 2011 at 05:53 PM
But isn't that telling someone how they should pray and to whom or not to whom as the case may be? Isn't that forcing someone to believe something that others believe? Isn't that unconstitutional? I personally don't understand a non-denominational prayer-that is like praying to a cardboard box. If someone is of the Islamic faith and wishes to pray a prayer from the Qu'ran (or Koran) that should be allowed. Same for Catholic praying a rosary, or a Buddist praying their beads, or a Wiccan lifting a prayer to the Mother Godess and Father God. Again I don't have to agree with it but no one under the constitution of the United States should be bullied into saying or not saying a prayer or being told how they should pray. This should also include our leaders.
David J Iacono June 10, 2011 at 06:46 PM
The Constitutional law is clear on this. See my letter to the editor on Thursday, June 2. Non-sectarian prayer is fine. Sectarian prayer is not.
carrollmd June 23, 2011 at 03:09 AM
I hope the commissioners all do pray if they are inclined to do so, but on their own time, not on my dime at public meetings where I expect them to do business in the best interest of, and represent ALL their constituents -whether we pray or not. This, and the recent resolution favoring heterosexual marriage (good grief!) leads me to believe this is yet another bit of showmanship for election campaign fundraising time, to show "the base" what good, pious folk they are: Guns, God, and Gays become hot topics. If they insist, the prayer should be non-sectarian. However, I'd rather see some good works ...
aveteran December 13, 2012 at 10:09 PM
They aren't elected as pastors or to pray, they're elected to take care of GOVERNMENT business.

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