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Americans United, ACLU oppose council prayers in Virginia Country. (People & Events).

Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia filed a lawsuit in federal court Dec. 6 against the Chesterfield County, Va., Board of Supervisors for maintaning a discriminatory policy on prayer before its meetings.

The plaintiff in the case is Cynthia Simpson, a Wiccan who asserts that the Board's refusal to add her to a list of volunteer clergy who give the invocations constitutes illegal religious discrimination. and an unconstitutional government promotion of religion.

The Board routinely opens its meetings with prayers, usually offered by clergy from Christian denominations. (Since 2000, Christian clergy have led the prayers at every Board meeting with one exception when two Christian clergy and one Jewish rabbi officiated.) Earlier this year, Simpson contacted the Board and asked that her name be added to the list of volunteers.

In response, County Attorney Steven L. Micas sent Simpson a letter stating, "Chesterfield's non-sectarian invocations are traditionally made to a divinity that is consistent with the Judeo-Christian tradition. Based upon our review of Wicca, it is neo-pagan and invokes polytheistic, pre-Christian deifies. Accordingly, we cannot honor your request to be included on the list of religious leaders that are invited to provide invocations at the meetings of the Board of Supervisors."

Board members also ridiculed and criticized Simpson's religious beliefs. Supervisor Renny B. Humphrey told the Richmond limes-Dispatch, "I hope she's a good witch, like Glinda" a reference to a character from "The Wizard of Oz." Board Chair Kelly E. Miller said, "It is a mockery. It is not any religion I would subscribe to. There are certain places we ought not go, and this is one of them."

After the lawsuit was filed, some Board members continued to disparage Simpson's faith. "That [Wicca] is basically a non-religion" Miller told The Washington Post. "It doesn't recognize the God that we have recognized. My perspective is that we should continue to follow the Judeo-Christian perspective. In the name of diversity, we need not throw away our Christian heritage." Miller admitted that the board's prayer policy would bar Muslims and Hindus as well.

AU says the board's actions are patently unconstitutional.

"Government officials do not have the right to discriminate when it comes to religion," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "The county supervisors shouldn't be sponsoring prayers at all, but when they do, they certainly can't play favorites."

The lawsuit, Simpson v. Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors, asks that Simpson be added to the list of clergy volunteers or that the Board discontinue invocations altogether.

In other news about prayers in government:
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Title Annotation:Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Publication:Church & State
Geographic Code:1U5VA
Date:Jan 1, 2003
Previous Article:Georgia Gov. seeks input from State Christian Coalition. (People & Events).
Next Article:A Utah atheist who wants to read an unconventional prayer. (People & Events).

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