Commissioner Richard Rothschild called Ridgely "a very active and vocal opponent of this conservative board of commissioners." He said he is "confident that the Carroll County commissioners are going to prevail."

Hake and Ridgely are not the first to take issue with the commissioners' prayers. The American Humanist Association in Washington sent a letter to the commissioners last year citing an appeals court ruling against a legislative body in North Carolina that used similar prayers.

William Burgess, director of the association's legal center, said he didn't receive a reply from the county. He is seeking to join the legal team representing Ridgely and Hake.

Burgess said concerns about prayers by local government arise regularly.

"It is surprisingly common around the country," he said. He said the center is contacted by people around the country "six or seven times a year."

Mat Staver, founder and chairman of the Christian legal aid group Liberty Counsel, hailed a pair of recent victories by municipalities on prayer issues.

Lakeland, Fla., won its case when a federal appeals court ruled that city policy provided for speakers from varied sources. And Lancaster, Calif., won when an appeals court ruled that neither the city's record nor its policies showed it was favoring Christianity.

In a separate case, The Baltimore Sun is among news organizations seeking to join the Carroll County Times as defendants in a petition by the commissioners asking a judge to uphold the county's practice of redacting email addresses from Maryland Public Information Act requests.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

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