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American Humanist Association Sues Carroll County Commissioners over Christian Prayers at Meetings

AHA says Board of Commissioners violated separation of church and state

For Immediate Release

Contact: William Burgess, bburgess@americanhumanist.org, 202-238-9088 x 102

(Washington, DC, May 1, 2013) — The Board of Commissioners in Carroll County, Maryland, was sued today by the Washington DC-based American Humanist Association for opening its meetings with Commissioner-delivered sectarian prayers.

According to the legal filing, prayers containing the Christian references “Jesus,” “Lord” and “Savior” were delivered on more than 50 separate occasions at board meetings held during 2011 and 2012. In March 2012, the Appignani Humanist Legal Center of the American Humanist Association sent a letter to the Board of County Commissioners explaining how such prayers are unconstitutional. No reply was received.

“As the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has already decided, it is a clear violation of the Establishment Clause when a legislature opens its sessions with sectarian prayers,” said William Burgess, coordinator of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “The Carroll County board has unconstitutionally affiliated itself with and promoted Christianity through these prayers.”

According to the complaint, the plaintiffs in the case find the sectarian prayers “divisive and exclusionary, leaving them to conclude that they are unwelcome at Board meetings and political outsiders in their own community.” 

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. Carroll County is just northwest of Baltimore and includes the cities of Westminster and Taneytown. It borders on Pennsylvania.

The complaint is available online here.


The American Humanist Association (www.americanhumanist.org) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington D.C., its work is extended through more than 160 local chapters and affiliates across the United States. Special thanks to the Louis J. Appignani Foundation and The Herb Block Foundation for their support of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism, affirms a responsibility to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity.

Hake v. Carroll County complaint by Appignani Humanist Legal Center