Janet Rowland is running for Mesa County commissioner again, after having been a two-term Commissioner already from 2004-2012. Because of her past in that elected office, we have a historic record showing what she will be like in office if she gets elected again.
For the sake of the county and its taxpayers, it’s probably not something we want to go through again.
Rowland has a penchant for using elected office for religious grandstanding.
Back in 2008, the secular group Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers (WCAF) discovered then-Commissioner Janet Rowland had started praying to Jesus Christ at the start of commissioner meetings.
The county had never hosted any kind of religious prayers at commissioner meetings before she did it. This was new.
WCAF warned Rowland her that her prayers to Jesus at taxpayer-funded public meetings crossed a bright red line into government preference of a single religion, that it was a real separation of church and state no-no, and that her behavior was putting the county at risk of a lawsuit. They asked her to stop. Attorneys from national organizations like American Atheists and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State took notice of what Rowland was doing. These groups warned her that what she was doing ran afoul of the Establishment Clause of First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and they left no doubt that it would lead to a lawsuit.
But instead of changing her behavior for the sake of the county and its taxpayers, Rowland did an end-run around the law.
Rowland contacted the Alliance Defending Freedom in Scottsdale, AZ — the religious equivalent of the ACLU — for help. They advised her to keep saying her prayers to Jesus, but keep them out of the official record of the meeting by saying them before she gaveled the meeting to order. The idea was to make it harder for groups threatening to sue, like American Atheists and Americans United, to gather evidence of her wrongdoing. Rowland also instructed the videographer who recorded the meeting not to turn the cameras on until after she finished her prayers, so those watching on TV from home couldn’t see what she was doing, and national secular groups based in other states couldn’t monitor what she was doing. It would also keep her prayers to Jesus out of the official video record of the meetings.
The first document at the top of this blog is an article from the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel about the prayer flap and how Rowland’s behavior exposed the county to a lawsuit. The second document is the email in which Rowland instructed her secretary to cover up her illegal activity and make it harder for groups to sue the County over it — and to keep it quiet.
Predictably, Rowland used these events to portray herself as a religious martyr fighting people who were trying to “force her to lose her religion,” and pander to her conservative base and help her get more votes.
Rowland is running again to be county commissioner this year.
This is what we’ll be in for if she gets into office again. History guarantees it.