Ridgely, who attends most of the meetings, says that for several months, every commissioner has chosen a prayer that favors Christianity above other faiths, a fact he considers a violation of First Amendment freedoms.

"Believe me, we have Jewish people, we have Muslims, we have plenty of atheists in Carroll County, and that pattern excludes them. It's offensive to me," he said.

In Anne Arundel, both the County Council and the Annapolis city council open meetings with invocations offered by members. Most keep their remarks pretty general, though God is often mentioned.

John Grasso, vice chairman of the County Council, said he prefers that colleagues keep comments short and sweet, "wishing the best for the meeting to go well."

Grasso, a Glen Burnie Republican, supports prayer at meetings — and in schools. But he said that doesn't mean everyone has to be subjected to a full sermon where "you feel like you're sitting in church."

The County Council's invocation dates back at least to the 1960s, said Amy Tate, the council's legislative counsel. While the invocation was once the Lord's Prayer, at some point it was changed, and now council members offer their own thoughts, she said.

There is one time a clergy member prays before the Anne Arundel County Council: at the beginning of the annual budget session.

In Annapolis, when Alderman Jared Littmann's turn for the invocation came up in May, he made a point to say that he wouldn't lead a public prayer. Instead, he implored fellow aldermen to treat each other well and do their best to serve city residents. He posted a copy of his remarks on Facebook, where he drew a mix of supportive and critical comments.

Littmann, who is Jewish, said he has no problem with people who are religious or who use religion as part of their support for an issue. But he draws the line at having a prayer as a formal part of a government meeting.

"It's not a matter of whether you are one religion or another. Some people, including myself, are uncomfortable in including religion in government proceedings," said Littmann, a Democrat.

When his colleagues pray, Littmann stands quietly. He's not sure what he'll do for his next turn to give the invocation, but is considering asking people in the council chambers to shake hands with those around them "in the spirit of collegiality."

The Harford County Council also has prayers offered by members, said Councilman Chad Shrodes, a Republican who represents the northern part of the county.

Some council members change their prayer each time; others repeat the same prayer. Some opt to bring a clergy member from their district.

When it's his turn, Shrodes tailors his prayer to any pertinent or pressing events in the community or the nation. He usually begins with "our heavenly father," which he hopes is "broad enough not to exclude anyone."

"In any case, I've never heard any complaints," he said.

Shrodes said Council President Billy Boniface, a Republican, always opens with the Serenity Prayer: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference."

In Baltimore, City Council members recommend clergy members from their districts to give an invocation. The clergy are encouraged to be inclusive of people of all faiths, said Lester Davis, spokesman for President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, a Democrat.

"No one will get up and say specifically Jesus Christ. They're supposed to be speaking for all faiths and even nonbelievers," Davis said.

Other localities shy away from prayer altogether.

The Baltimore County Council starts meetings with a moment of "silent meditation."