WESTMINSTER, Md. (WJZ)—The battle over public prayer takes center stage in Carroll County, where a federal lawsuit is slamming the brakes on certain types of prayers at county commission meetings.

Derek Valcourt explains why the commission’s opening prayer is causing such a rift.

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Here’s the problem: county commissioners say they want to continue praying specifically to Jesus at the meetings. But for now, a federal judge ordered that those prayers must be broader, more inclusive, for the sake of those who aren’t Christians.

Some of Carroll County’s commissioners openly defied a federal judge’s orders to temporarily avoid prayers mentioning Jesus or any other specific religious deity. That order was the result of lawsuit filed by a small group of citizens, including attorney Bruce Hake.

“I’m the last thing from an atheist. I pray to Jesus everyday,” Hake said.

Hake and others have taken offense to some of the prayers offered by commissioners during public meetings– prayers clearly referencing only the Christian faith.

“Instead, nice neutral traditional non-sectarian prayers are not offensive to almost everybody and they don’t cause this unnecessary divide,” Hake said.

But their lawsuit has drawn some backlash, angering some commissioners.

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“If I tell someone they can pray but I force them to pray only in a way that is acceptable to someone of another religion, then in effect I am prohibiting them from praying,” said Richard Rothschild, county commissioner.

The suit is also angering some of the county’s outspoken Christian constituents who vow to keep Jesus’ name in the meetings.

“Doesn’t matter if it comes from [the commissioners’] lips or the public’s lips, it can happen still and it will,” said Anita Hilt, Carroll County resident.

“The standards this country was built on were the standards of the Christian faith,” said Harold Forney, Carroll County resident.

Commissioners could now be held in contempt for defying the judge’s orders. That’s why Tuesday, in a 3 to 2 vote, the commission narrowly agreed to this resolution, saying for now their prayers will reference God — but not Jesus — by name.

This battle is far from over. Many are waiting to see if a Supreme Court ruling expected later this year on a separate case out of New York will overturn the judge’s ruling and allow the commission to continue praying specifically to Jesus at these meetings.

Both parties are also waiting to see if the federal judge will hold the commission in contempt for defying his orders, and possibly even issue hefty fines.

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