In the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Greece v Galloway, a federal judge in Maryland has lifted his preliminary injunction in a challenge to prayers at meetings of the Carroll County Commission. But the plaintiffs will continue to pursue the case because it’s quite distinct from the Greece situation.
The decision had an immediate effect on Carroll County, where the board of commissioners has been under a federal court order since March to abstain from prayers that refer to deities of specific faiths. Citing the Supreme Court decision, U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles Jr. lifted that order hours after the high court ruling.
“This is a victory for free speech,” said Carroll County Commissioner Richard Rothschild, who opposed changing the prayers. “The decision certainly seems to vindicate our position.”
But the ruling, which split the Supreme Court along ideological lines, won’t immediately end the controversy in Carroll County. The plaintiffs in the local case vowed to continue to press the issue.
They argue that what happened in Greece is not analogous, in part because Carroll commissioners themselves offer the prayer rather than calling on outside clergy.“Unlike in the town of Greece, where even an atheist could give an invocation, in this case you have a very exclusive policy,” said Monica Miller, a lawyer with the American Humanist Association, which is representing the plaintiffs.
Miller is right. In Greece, they had a policy allowing people from the community to sign up to deliver the prayers. Justice Kennedy’s ruling focused a great deal on that fact, that even though nearly all of the prayers were Christian it was at least open to non-Christians delivering the prayers. That is not the case in Carroll County, where only the commissioners themselves, all Christians, deliver the prayers. If that case were to make it to the Supreme Court, I think it’s pretty likely that Kennedy would be on the other side.