The Role Of Religion In The Public Square | WYPR

The Role Of Religion In The Public Square

Apr 15, 2014

Credit Carlos Smith / Flickr / Creative Commons
Tonight is the second night of Passover for Jews, and this is Holy Week for Christians.  This morning, a conversation about religion in the public square.  The founding fathers spent lots of time discussing the separation of church and state, and the argument about religion in general and prayer in particular in public settings continues to this day.  Here in Maryland, late last month, a federal court judge issued an injunction against the Carroll County Commission which prohibits “invoking the name of a specific deity associated with any one specific faith in prayers given at Board meetings.” 

In a lawsuit brought against the Commission on behalf of three Carroll County residents, the American Humanist Association objected to Commissioners praying to Jesus at the beginning of their meetings.  The lawsuit continues, and for now, the injunction has the power of law.  Carroll County Commissioner Robin Frazier responded to the injunction at a meeting of the Commission on March 27th:  

“I think that is an infringement on my first amendment rights of free speech and free religion and just as I wouldn’t give up my guns, or I wouldn’t allow my children to be palm scanned, or give up my property rights with Plan Maryland, I’m not going to give up those rights. But, out of respect for my colleagues, I don’t know how strongly they feel about it, I’m willing to go jail over it. I believe this is a fundamental of America. And if we cease to believe that our rights come 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 if we don’t start standing up and saying no.”


On April 8th, the Commissioners voted 3-2 to say only non-denominational prayers at their meetings.  Robin Frazier and Commissioner Richard Rothchild voted against the resolution.  

Joining me in the studio this morning are a religious scholar and a constitutional lawyer who have thought a lot about the issue of religion in a secular society.  Heather Miller Rubens is the Catholic Scholar at the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies in Baltimore.  Mark Graber is a Professor of Law and Government at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law.

The Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies annual Manekin Clark Lecture will be given this year by Dr. David Nirenberg from the University of Chicago.  He’ll talk about inter-religious relations between the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.  He’ll speak at Beth El Congregation at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday night, May 8th.  More information here.