“Respecting Rights” by Denying Rights

We haven’t delved too much into the weeds on the situation with the Carroll County Board of Commissioners. The short version is that the totally Republican Board of Commissions settled a lawsuit filed against the Board that was designed to ban sectarian prayers from being performed prior to Commission meetings. The bottom line of all of this is that the Commissioners can no longer public pray before a meeting.

Now I’ll admit, that despite being a Catholic I didn’t get too exercised about this lawsuit. But when I read an op-ed from left-wing Democratic activist Neil Ridgely for the Baltimore Sun the absurdity of the lawsuit becomes painfully real. Ridgely, who was one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, goes on an interesting verbal safari about his decision to discriminate against Christian members of the Board of Commissioners.

Let’s take a look at this, shall we?

The state of Maryland is 69% Christian. And while that may sound like an overwhelming number on its own, the more than 30% of non-Christian residents and residents from minority Christian denominations would disagree that the majority religious faith should dominate the community conversation. That is why my Roman Catholic colleague Bruce Hake and I filed a lawsuit, after repeated requests for non-legal resolution, against the Carroll County Board of Commissioners in 2013.

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I read this opening paragraph three times and have no idea what Ridgely was actually trying to say here, particularly about how the “majority religious faith should dominate the conversation,” especially considering that he doesn’t even mention what he’s suing about in his opening paragraph. But don’t worry, the stupidity of this argument becomes more apparent very early.

When Christian prayers launch each meeting, the board is unwelcoming to non-Christians who may otherwise be interested in attending local government events or who may even be interested in running for the Board of Commissioners or other elected offices in the community. And it’s not just the religious beliefs of the people present at each meeting that are relevant. County commissioners are elected to represent the interests of all of their constituents — not just the ones that adhere to one set of sectarian faith traditions.

Again, this makes no sense. Now I was never in the room to hear these prayers obviously. But is Ridgely implying here that Christians are unwelcoming of other people who are not Christians? Is he suggesting that a Christian prayer somehow is offensive to other people? Is Ridgely so knuckleheaded to think that the mere existence of a Christian prayer means that the Board of Commissioners or any other government official ignores non-Christians when conducting government business?

The Christian prayers led by the commissioners did not exist in a vacuum. The members of the Carroll County Board of Commissioners often asked and encouraged local residents and those attending the board meetings to stand for the prayer, a request that feels more like a demand when coming from an elected authority in the county.

In December 2010, the commissioners cemented their preference for proselytization by adopting a governing principle that explicitly promised the board would “open its meetings with the Pledge of Allegiance followed by a prayer.” Commissioners didn’t just pray for guidance in matters of county business; one commissioner ended his prayer asking the lord to “bless America and return her to a set of values which is pleasing to you as we start this new year.”

Again, who is actually offended by this other than intersectional Democrats who are looking to score cheap political points in a county where Democrats can’t win an election? Is asking God to “bless America and return her to a set of values which is pleasing to you as we start this new year” somehow offensive to people? What kind of people are even offended by this?

Before this lawsuit was filed, we and the American Humanist Association requested that the commissioners pray privately in the anteroom before coming out to the public dais; include prayers of other beliefs; or even just offer a moment of silence, private prayer or simple solitude. Instead, Commissioner Robin Frazier was so adamant in her refusal to compromise that she was quoted as saying, she would rather go to jail than not pray at meetings. So, we proceeded to litigation. Attorneys at the American Humanist Association built a case by spending hundreds of hours in interviewing participants and reviewing the pre-recorded tapes of hundreds of meetings.

And now we get to the real meat and potatoes here. While Ridgeley claims that he was offended by this as a Roman Catholic (which means he really needs to be better catechized) he was merely a pawn of the American Humanist Association. That organization, for lack of a better term, it an organization that discriminates against people who believe in God. They state in their own words that  “For over 75 years, the AHA has proudly served as the leading progressive voice in America on behalf of humanists, atheists, agnostics, and freethinkers.” These are people who just want to leave people alone, they want to actively push people of faith out of public life. In the name of protecting the non-religious from discrimination, the American Humanist Association discriminates against people of all Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and other theistic faiths.

Neil Ridgley and the American Humanist Association were made for each other. Ridgely hates the conservative Republicans who have routinely routed the Democrats at the ballot box for decades, and the American Humanist Association hates Christians. Which is why it’s hilarious that Ridgely writes:

The lawsuit has nothing to do with politics or personal sentiments against that previous Carroll County Board of Commissioners. It has only to do with ignoring the rights of Carroll County citizens of other faiths, be they Jewish, Bahá’í, Muslim, Hindu or any other religion. We firmly believe in the right of people of all faiths and none to be welcome at county board meetings by the offering of a simple moment of silence for all to pray to their god or reflect on the business before the commissioners.

Again, this lawsuit had everything to do with politics and nothing to do with “ignoring the rights” of any other religion. The fact of the matter is that thanks to the lawsuit the only rights that are being violated in Carrol County thanks to Ridgely are the rights of the Carroll County Board of Commissioners who have been banned from publicly practicing their faith. Ridgely thinks that he is somehow “respecting the rights” of people when he is actively violating the rights of others.

Now, the current Board of Commissioners has fault here too. The current Board (which was not the Board that was originally sued) failed their constituents by agreeing to settle the suit. And while there were strong fiscal considerations at play here to just pay the money in the settlement and move on, this Board of Commissioner sacrificed their own constitutional rights and the constitutional rights of future members of the Board of Commission just to make a lawsuit go away. And that says nothing about the precedent that it sets for other frivolous lawsuits motivated by left-wing Democratic hate of conservatives. The settlement ended this fight, but it will cause more. And that says nothing about the objections from Carroll County residents, legislators, and others.

Neil Ridgely claims that he sued to protect the rights of all religious, but all he did was force discrimination upon others. You cannot claim to be fighting to respect the rights of all when you deny the rights of others. That’s now how liberty works and that’s not how religious freedom works. Ridgely and his cohorts really need to confront their misunderstandings about our constitution, their misunderstandings about what it means to live in a free country and confront their own prejudices.

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