For Immediate Release
(March 26, 2014)—In an important win for church-state separation, Judge William D. Quarels, Jr. of the U.S. District Court of Maryland issued the preliminary injunction today to stop sectarian prayers held before meetings of the Carroll County Board of Commissioners. The American Humanist Association alleged that the practice of permitting Commissioners to deliver prayers that reference Jesus Christ or Savior during county meetings violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The ruling can be viewed here.
“When government officials frequently invoke Jesus or Savior in government meetings, they exploit the legislative prayer opportunity permitted by Marsh in violation of the Constitution,” said Monica Miller, attorney for the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “Non-Christians, who are necessarily excluded by such sectarian Christian prayers, feel like religious outsiders and second-class citizens in their own community.”
Judge Quarels ruled that Carroll County officials are prohibited “from invoking the name of a specific deity associated with any specific faith or belief in prayers given at [Board] meetings” for the duration of the lawsuit. The Board may continue to give non-sectarian invocations at the beginning of meetings.
“This is a major victory for the separation of church and state,” said David Niose, legal director of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “Invocations at public meetings must not be sectarian, and that rule was clearly broken by the county here.”
The American Humanist Association sent a letter to the Carroll County Board of Commissioners on March 7, 2012 on behalf of three Carroll County residents who complained about the prayers. When the Board’s prayer practice continued unchanged, the American Humanist Association filed a lawsuit against Carroll County on May 1, 2013. The Court heard oral arguments on the motion for the preliminary injunction on January 10, 2014.
A similar case addressing legislative prayer is currently under consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court. A decision is expected in June in the case of Town of Greece v. Galloway; oral arguments were heard on November 6, 2013.
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Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, DC, the American Humanist Association (AHA) works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other non-religious Americans. The AHA advances the ethical and life-affirming philosophy of humanism, which—without beliefs in any gods or other supernatural forces—encourages individuals to live informed and meaningful lives that aspire to the greater good of humanity.
Special thanks to the Louis J. Appignani Foundation for their support of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.