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Attorneys seek summary judgement in Carroll prayer lawsuit

Attorneys on both sides of a lawsuit against the Carroll County Board of Commissioners concerning its practice of opening public meetings with sectarian prayers will ask a federal judge for his decision.

Lawyers with the American Humanist Association withdrew their request for U.S. District Court of Maryland Judge William D. Quarles Jr. to reinstate his order barring the board of commissioners from opening its meetings with invocations mentioning Jesus Christ. Monica Miller, an attorney with the American Humanist Association, said she withdrew the motion to save the court's time since Quarles will issue a summary judgement, or decision, sometime in the next few months.

The attorneys for the county commissioners have already asked Quarles for a summary judgement and Miller said they will be asking for a summary judgement in the near future. Asking for a summary judgement means that the judge will decide on the constitutionality of saying Christian sectarian prayers without a full-blown trial.

But before Quarles rules on the matter, Miller said she hopes there will be a period of discovery, during which parties request and exchange relevant evidence and information. During discovery, attorneys can depose the commissioners, ask for the commissioner's emails and other pieces of information that offer insight into the issue, Miller said.

"Discovery is not necessary to prove our case but it could reveal more that could help us," she said.

In March, Quarles issued a preliminary injunction to keep the commissioners from continuing their practice of saying sectarian prayers. The injunction was the result of a lawsuit originally brought against the county by two Carroll residents — Bruce Hake, of Union Bridge, and Neil Ridgely, of Finksburg. Later, Judy Smith, Lauren Graybill and the American Humanist Association joined Hake and Ridgely as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

In May, Quarles lifted the temporary injunction he placed on the board of commissioners after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a 5-4 decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway that affirmed the constitutionality of the upstate New York town opening its board meetings with mostly Christian prayers.

After Quarles lifted the injunction, the board of commissioners voted unanimously May 8 to reverse its previous decision and return to saying sectarian prayers at the start of its meetings.

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