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Carroll commissioners resume practice of sectarian Christian prayer

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A member of the Carroll Board of County Commissioners opened the panel's meeting Tuesday with a prayer "in Jesus' name," resuming the controversial practice a week after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that similar prayers before government meetings in an upstate New York town didn't violate the Constitution.

In her short prayer, County Commissioner Robin Frazier asked for "wisdom and guidance as we do the work for the people of Carroll County."

The board had suspended its practice of opening meetings with sectarian prayers in April after two county residents won an injunction from a federal court. Bruce Hake and Neil Ridgely said they felt alienated by the prayers.

But after the Supreme Court ruled that Christian prayers in Greece, N.Y., did not violate the separation of church and state, U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles lifted the injunction on Carroll County, and the board voted unanimously last week to resume its prayers. Tuesday's meeting was the panel's first since that vote.

Monica Lynn Miller, an attorney for the American Humanist Association who is representing Hake and Ridgely, says the Supreme Court opinion doesn't apply to Carroll County because Greece allowed prayers of all denominations, while the Carroll commissioners offer only Christian prayer.

Miller said she hoped Quarles would reinstate the injunction, and hold the commissioners in contempt for continuing to say prayers after he first imposed it.

"The commissioners are not using [the Supreme Court opinion] in the way it's meant to be used," she said.

Commissioner Richard Rothschild disagreed.

"I think our system of government is derived from Judeo-Christian principles, and it's important to recognize those principles now in government," he said.

The commissioners plan to take turns leading prayers to open meetings.

Rothschild called hearing Frazier say the first prayer on Tuesday a "freeing" experience.

"I thought to myself that I could now pray consistent with my conscience, and no longer violate my own spiritual beliefs."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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