Americans United in February spoke out against a decision by officials in Carroll County, Md., to sponsor a course on the state constitution that reflected Religious Right views.
County employees were pressured to attend a Feb. 25 class led by an ultra-conservative Christian minister, David Whitney of the Institute on the Constitution.
Whitney told The Baltimore Sun, “We will be looking at the language of our Founding Fathers who wrote they were ‘grateful to Almighty God for civil and religious liberties’ front and center on this document. The Bible is the source of the authority that they looked to.”
Although attendance at the event was not technically mandatory, AU said it was concerned that some employees might feel pressured to attend. AU also protested that the training was being supported with $800 of county money
In a letter to county officials, AU attorneys noted that the Institute on the Constitution has clear Christian overtones and informed them that sponsorship of such an event is problematic.
“[T]he courts have forbidden the government from sponsoring religious programming or coercing people to attend such programming,” wrote AU Associate Legal Director Alex J. Luchenitser and AU staff attorney Ian Smith.
Luchenitser and Smith asked county officials to cancel the event or at least make it clear that employees would not be expected to attend.
AU also criticized the seminar in the media.
AU Assistant Director of Communications Rob Boston noted that the Institute on the Constitution holds extreme views. Boston told The Sun, “It is outrageous for any county government to be spending taxpayer dollars for Religious Right political indoctrination, which is exactly what this seminar is about. Do these commissioners realize what a mess they have stepped into? This is a toxic stew, and employees should not be forced to dine there.”
However, Commissioner Richard Rothschild said he saw no problem with this situation.
“It is perfectly appropriate to teach a course which factually explains the role God plays in our constitution,” Rothschild said.
AU noted that Whitney is part of an organization aligned with the Christian Reconstructionist movement, which is on the farthest fringe of the Religious Right. Christian Reconstructionists openly seek to scrap secular democracy in favor of a draconian fundamentalist theocracy.
On its website, the Institute on the Constitution, which is based in Pasadena, Md., claims its view “of government is that there is a God, the God of the Bible, our rights come from Him, and the purpose of civil government is to secure our rights.”
AU’s letter and protest had an effect. The commissioners emailed all county employees and stressed that attendance at the seminar was “purely voluntary” and that no attendance would be taken. The event ended up drawing a small crowd of about 50 people.
The Sun reported that the seminar itself was relatively free of religious talk. Whitney, the newspaper reported, “made no attempt to proselytize” during the three-hour event.