updated 7/12/2007 2:02:05 PM ET 2007-07-12T18:02:05

A federal judge has ruled that officials in a suburban county violated the Constitution in the way they selected clergy to offer prayers before certain public meetings, but refused to issue an injunction since the practice has been made more ecumenical.

Instead, U.S. District Judge Richard Story, in a decision dated Friday, ordered Cobb County, near Atlanta, to pay $1 to seven residents who sued in 2005 over the prayer practice.

“Because the court finds that plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate an immediate threat of injury and failed to demonstrate that an injunction will redress their injuries, plaintiffs do not have standing to seek a permanent injunction,” Story wrote.

A message seeking comment left Wednesday by The Associated Press with the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, which represented the residents, was not immediately returned. A call to a lawyer for the county also was not immediately returned.

The residents had challenged the constitutionality of Cobb County’s practice of beginning meetings of its Board of Commissioners and its Planning Commission with invocational prayers delivered by invited guests.

They weren’t against the right to pray, but rather the sectarian content of some of the prayers — 70 percent of the prayers were Christian in nature — and the manner in which guests were selected to lead the prayers — clergy were picked in part by thumbing through the Yellow Pages.

Story said in his order that there was nothing wrong with the way the Board of Commissioners selected clergy because it culled names from a diverse set of religious organizations compiled from various sources.

‘The record reflects the contrary’
However, Story said, the Planning Commission, in 2003 and 2004, violated the Constitution because, in selecting clergy to give prayers before meetings, a deputy clerk excluded clergy who were Jewish, Muslim, Jehovah’s Witnesses or from the Latter Day Saint churches. Story said that practice was stopped in 2005, prior to the lawsuit, and has not recurred.

“The record is devoid of evidence that defendants are likely to select invitees pursuant to an unconstitutional procedure which excludes certain religious leaders and other individuals from the pool of potential prayer-givers,” Story said.

In a footnote, the judge added, “Indeed, the record reflects the contrary.”

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