|George did not chop down the cherry either
A federal judge recently ruled that the Carroll County, Maryland Board of Commissioners would not be allowed, at least temporarily, to start their meetings with a sectarian prayer. The order, however, did not stop Robin Bartlett Frazier, one of the commissioners, from praying a very Christian prayer at a recent budget meeting. Frazier saw the prayer as an act of civil disobedience, saying that “she was willing to go to jail” to fight the judge’s ruling. (The ruling, by the way, was a temporary one. The judge asked the commissioners to refrain from sectarian prayer until a lawsuit on public prayers at meetings of the Board of Commissioners could be decided).
Frazier claimed that the prayer she prayed came from George Washington. I assume that she felt that if she prayed a prayer by Washington she would be sending the message that America was founded on Christian principles. How could a federal court condemn a prayer by George Washington?
Unfortunately, Washington never uttered this prayer. It comes from a bogus prayer book that has been wrongly attributed to the first president. The Carroll County Times asked me to help clarify the whole situation. Here is a taste of their coverage:
- History scholar: Prayer did not come from George Washington
- The prayer recited by Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier Thursday that she said is from George Washington has been proven to not belong to the first president, but is often used by Christian Conservative politicians, according to a scholar.
John Fea, chair of the History Department at Messiah College, said the prayer comes from the so-called George Washington Prayer Book, which was found in a chest of papers by one of Washington’s descendants in the 1890s. The University of Virginia, which houses the Papers of George Washington, and the Smithsonian Institution have concluded, based on the handwriting, that it was not written by Washington, Fea said.
“It is also far too pious for Washington,” Fea wrote in an email to the 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.”
U.S. District Court of Maryland Judge William D. Quarles Jr. issued a preliminary injunction Tuesday to keep the commissioners from continuing their practice of saying sectarian prayers at the beginning of meetings. The commissioners will be allowed to make prayers at meetings but cannot invoke “the name of a specific deity associated with any specific faith or belief…,” according to the judge’s opinion.
In defiance, Frazier, R-District 1, recited the prayer that she believed to be from Washington. The prayer contained Christian references, including the reference to Jesus Christ.
Want to learn more about religion and the American founding, including George Washington’s other mythical prayer–the one at Valley Forge? Check out Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.