Judge Halts Christian Prayers at Carroll County (Maryland) Board of Commissioners Meetings

Last May, the Appignani Humanist Legal Center of the American Humanist Association sued Carroll County, Maryland because its Board of Commissioners’ public meetings often began with “Commissioner-delivered sectarian prayers.”

These prayers weren’t just non-denominational. They were plainly endorsing Christianity. See if you can figure out how I know that:

A review of the video recordings of Board meetings during 2011 and 2012 reveals that on at least 54 separate occasions, Sectarian Prayers were delivered containing the Christian references identified in the following list on the dates identified: 1/4/2011 (“Jesus”); 1/18/2011 (“Jesus”); 1/19/2012 (the Lord’s Prayer); 1/25/2011 (“Savior”); 1/27/2011 (“Jesus”); 2/8/2011 (“Jesus”); 2/15/2011 (“Jesus”); 2/22/2011 (“Jesus”); 3/3/2011 (“Jesus”); 3/22/2011 (“Jesus”); 3/29/2011 (“Jesus”); 3/31/2011 (“Jesus”); 4/14/2011 (“Jesus”); 4/26/2011 (“Jesus”); 5/3/2011 (“Jesus”); 5/12/2011 (“Jesus”); 5/19/2011 (“Jesus”); 6/16/2011 (“Jesus”); 7/21/2011 (“Jesus”); 7/28/2011 (“Savior”); 8/9/2011 (“Jesus”); 9/1/2011 (“Jesus”); 9/29/2011 (“Jesus”); 10/6/2011 (“Jesus”); 10/31/2011 (“in Jesus, my Savior’s name, I pray”); 11/3/2011 (“Savior”); 12/8/2011 (“Jesus”); 12/13/2011 (“Savior”); 1/11/2012 (“Savior”); 1/24/2012 (“Jesus”); 2/9/2012 (“Jesus”); 2/16/2012 (“Savior”); 3/1/2012 (“Savior”); 3/21/2012 (“Jesus”); 4/5/2012 (“Savior”); 4/16/2012 (“Jesus”); 4/24/2012 (“Savior”); 5/29/2012 (“Savior”); 6/7/2012 (“Jesus”); 6/28/2012 (“Jesus”); 7/5/2012 (“Jesus”); 7/19/2012 (“Jesus”); 8/14/2012 (“Jesus”); 8/28/2012 (“Jesus”); 9/1/2011 (“Jesus”); 9/4/2012 (“Jesus”); 9/13/2012 (“Jesus”); 9/20/2012 (“Savior”); 10/4/2012 (“Jesus”); 10/11/2012 (“Savior”); 10/25/2012 (“Savior”); 11/13/2012 (“Savior”); 11/29/2012 (“Jesus”); and 12/6/2012 (“Savior”).

During this two year period, none of the official prayers delivered by the Commissioners mentioned non-Christian deities or used non-Christian language.

More importantly, perhaps, the plaintiff in the case wasn’t even an atheist. It was a Roman Catholic who had his own reasons for opposing the religious prayers:

Plaintiff Bruce A. Hake objects to the Sectarian Prayers on religious grounds. He is a religious Roman Catholic, and he believes the Sectarian Prayers violate his First Amendment rights to religious liberty by advancing a version of Christianity that is historically anti- Catholic. In addition, he believes that the Sectarian Prayers violate principles set forth clearly in the Christian Bible, and thus violate his religious liberties by forcing him either to avoid Board meetings or be forced to participate in proceedings that violate his religious faith. In addition, Mr. Hake is the owner of a business in Carroll County (a small law firm), and he believes that the Sectarian Prayers create a hostile environment that is potentially harmful to his business.

Yesterday, a judge ruled the right way, putting a halt to these government homages to Jesus:

Judge William D. Quarels, Jr. of the U.S. District Court of Maryland issued the preliminary injunction today to stop sectarian prayers held before meetings of the Carroll County Board of Commissioners.

Judge Quarels ruled that Carroll County officials are prohibited “from invoking the name of a specific deity associated with any specific faith or belief in prayers given at [Board] meetings” for the duration of the lawsuit. The Board may continue to give non-sectarian invocations at the beginning of meetings.

It’s a fantastic victory for church-state separation — and an issue so controversial that the Supreme Court will be ruling on a similar case in the coming months. There’s simply no reason elected officials can’t pray on their own time. Board meetings are not a substitute for church — and it’s too bad these commissioners couldn’t figure that out on their own.

The ruling is a preliminary injunction, meaning the AHA was deemed likely to prevail on the merits of their constitutional claims. The AHA is seeking a summary judgment so that this case comes to an end once and for all.

"OH DEAR BABY JEBUS, please let this stick!"

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