An order that barred elected leaders of Carroll County, Maryland, from opening their public meetings with prayers invoking the name of Jesus Christ was lifted Monday by a federal judge, hours after the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly approved of Christian prayers opening town board meetings in New York state.
Plaintiffs in the Maryland case said they will ask U.S. District Judge William Quarles to reconsider the preliminary injunction because the two cases are factually different.
But for now, Carroll County's Board of County Commissioners can resume its practice of rotating the prayer duty among the five commissioners, some of whom prefer to pray specifically to Christ rather than to a generic deity. The board's next scheduled public meeting is Tuesday morning.
In his order lifting the March 25 preliminary injunction, Quarles cited the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling Monday in a case involving the town of Greece, New York. In that case, the high court upheld overtly Christian prayers, declaring them in line with long national traditions even though the nation has grown more religiously diverse.
The content of the prayers is not significant as long as they do not denigrate non-Christians or try to win converts, the Supreme Court said in a decision backed by its conservative majority.
Attorney David Niose of the Washington-based American Humanist Association said the New York case is different from the Maryland case his group is pursuing on behalf of several Carroll County residents.
The prayers that open Greece town board meetings are said by local clergy members, whereas the prayer at the start of each Carroll County Commissioners meeting is said by one of the elected commissioners.
Niose said Christian prayers at the Carroll County meetings would still violate the First Amendment, despite Monday's ruling, if they're delivered by government officials rather than by invited guests.
"A board member is the government," Niose said in a telephone interview. "When a government official stands up and recites a Christian prayer, there is really the suggestion, or at least one could infer from it, that there's favoritism toward that religious view."
Carroll County officials were studying the ruling, spokeswoman Roberta Windham said.
The county's lawyer in the case, David C. Gibbs of Bartonville, Texas, didn't immediately respond to Associated Press queries by telephone and email.