Sacred Sunday? Not by county edict

Comment

May 21, 2000|By MIKE BURNS

I WAS CHATTING with my neighbor, Mark, a couple of weeks ago. He likes to play softball, as long as you don't make him run out the ground balls and there's no hotdog windmill pitcher on the mound. Slow pitch and slow run is his game.

So I gave him a flier from the local rec council that was brought home from school by my daughter. It announced formation of a "mature" softball league that was looking for players.

He looked it over and handed the paper back to me. "Nope, can't do it," he said. The games were scheduled for Friday evenings and that's the beginning of the Sabbath for his family. They're Seventh Day Adventists, who believe the Bible says on the seventh day God rested and so should they.

I guess Mark wasn't up to date on his family values and morals, according to the book of Saint Robin Bartlett Frazier, a county commissioner. He should be indulging in positive recreational outlets for youth and families on Friday evenings.

But heaven forbid he should think about a game on Sunday mornings, when true believers should worship. And when the pagans should keep their activities off the hallowed playing fields of Carroll County.

That's what Ms. Frazier, local leader of the divine majority, declares her political mission to be. And if that imposes her order of personal worship on the lives of others, well that's the way the divinity intended it to be.

At least fellow Commissioners Julia Walsh Gouge and Donald I. Dell admitted they were wrong in prohibiting play on the public fields on Sunday mornings. They hastily revoked the month-old ban without Ms. Frazier's assent.

They conceded that they had misjudged the situation, that they should have consulted with county lawyers before issuing such a letter to the public recreation councils and the parks department. They acknowledged that they offended some people by implying that Sunday morning was the only appropriate time of worship.

Not Ms. Frazier, who indignantly declared that her so-called "majority" had rights beyond the rest of the county.

In truth, the controversial issue about scheduling Sunday morning games and activities on county fields and facilities is a complicated one.

The county leaders did not wish to be in the position of scheduling/sanctioning events that would conflict with scheduled Christian services for many residents. They were concerned that it might force families to choose between the competing interests, especially for children.

But they erred in believing that (1) youth recreation leagues were going to automatically schedule games on Sunday mornings to cause obvious conflicts and (2) that most religiously observant people need to attend services the entire Sunday morning.

That is simply not the case. And for occasional events, such as a weekend campout or a Special Olympics festival, there are many who comfortably find other ways to observe their faith. Even church groups could not use the fields Sunday mornings under the now-revoked policy, Joe Bach, president of the county recreation councils, pointed out

With 160 places of worship counted by Commissioner Gouge in the county, it's safe to say that a good number of them do not have their only service on mid-morning Sundays.(It also should be clear that nowhere near a majority of 150,000 Carroll residents is involved in that number of religious institutions, no matter how you try to twist the math.)

One could understand if the county leaders were concerned about noise and disruption of certain recreation events affecting a nearby church during its time of services. Or if some county employees were unfairly forced to work on events that conflicted with their specific church services.

But those individual conflicts could be honestly worked out, we trust, without a countywide edict.

As both a practical matter and a reasonable accommodation, major county events are not scheduled for Sunday morning.

The Maryland Wine Festival, the most popular paid weekend event held in the county each year, opens Saturday morning but not until noon on Sunday. Sure, event workers are busy preparing on Sunday mornings, but that is their choice, as it should be.

Choice is really the issue. Citizens of Carroll should be free to choose when to observe their Sabbath (or, indeed, not to observe any religion) as long as it does not harm others. Proper use of public facilities should not be manipulated to impose a religious observance on the populace.

That's the right thing to do. We haven't even mentioned the legal and constitutional arguments, which are the primary reasons why the policy should never have been promulgated in the first place.

The upshot of this affair should be a greater sensitivity on the part of the county's leaders to the diverse character and beliefs of this broad Carroll community.

But it should also underscore the need for recreation councils and other public organizations to understand that games and events should be scheduled to promote the broadest participation of residents. They can't be insensitive to the conflicting demands of church services, school calendars and other community activities.

Working together to recognize our varying needs and allegiances Carroll County can achieve a true moral majority.

Mike Burns writes editorials for The Sun from Carroll

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