There are no prayers at any other public meetings in the county, either, spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said. "We recognize there's a lot of diversity in our county."

Howard County Council meetings don't have a prayer at all, said Sheila Tolliver, the council's administrator. She said that's been the case at least since 1992, when she started working for the council.

In Cecil County, the prayer issue sparked a recent debate.

The county changed its form of government in December, and as the newly elected body set out to define regulations and procedures, Republican Councilwoman Diana Broomell brought up the idea of opening meetings with a prayer.

The proposal sparked sharp and immediate debate, as well as strongly worded letters in the Cecil Whig. The council discussed the matter over a course of weeks before voting in May for a moment of silence rather than a prayer.

County Council President Robert Hodge, a Republican, noted that Cecil residents hold a variety of religious beliefs.

"We know that some people strongly support Christian prayer in public meetings and that some people oppose it just as strongly," he said. "We just didn't want to get into that debate or wade into any court battle or court fight, in my opinion."

Tribune news services and Baltimore Sun reporter Alison Knezevich contributed to this article.

pwood@baltsun.com

jonathan.pitts@baltsun.com