Written by Don Byrd
Via Religion Clause, a federal judge has issued an injunction halting the practice of sectarian prayers opening Maryland’s Carroll County Commission meetings. The Commissioners offer prayers to open the meeting on a rotating basis. While the County’s policy discourages the use of specific references to Christ, the court explained that the policy is only one part of the analysis, quoting the 4th Circuit’s decision in Joyner ruling unconstitutional opening prayers in Forsyth County, North Carolina.
From the opinion (my emphasis):
Although the podium guidelines discourage sectarian references, the Board has made no effort to curb the frequent sectarian references made by its own Commissioners. “Citizens attending Board meetings hear the prayers, not the policy. . . . we cannot turn a blind eye to the practical effects of the invocations as issue here.” The record, although incomplete at this time, indicates that sectarian prayers are offered in over 40 percent of Board meetings. This demonstrates more then infrequent, occasional, or incidental references standing alone, especially in light of the lack of references to other deities. At this time, the record indicates that the prayers invoked by Commissioners before Board meetings advance one religion to the exclusion of others.
Ultimately the outcome of this case, like other pending lawsuits challenging legislative prayer, may be determined by the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Town of Greece case. The Court heard arguments in that case back in November. A decision should be issued sometime in the next few months.