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Virginia County Board: Followers of ‘Pre-Christian’ Deities are Not Allowed to Offer Prayers at Public Meetings

Virginia county officials are okay with having prayer open up public meetings – as long as it is not ‘pre-Christian’ or polytheistic prayer.

Chesterfield county officials maintain an official list of approved clergy that are allowed to open public meetings. To get on the list, you have to meet a list of requirements set by the county, including being ordained and not being a worshipper of too ancient of a faith system, like Wiccans.

Not surprisingly, most of the clergy that made the county’s cut were Christians, something the Americans United for Separation of Church and State claims is just not fair or even constitutional.

“The First Amendment requires governing bodies to allow everyone the chance to deliver prayers before official meetings,” Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director said. “If they don’t, then what they’re doing is unconstitutional.”

County officials have defended disallowing a Wiccan on their ‘approved for prayer’  list, however,  saying that the Wiccan prayer does not follow the Judeo-Christian tradition and “invokes polytheistic, pre-Christian deities,” and thus is not appropriate to open up county meetings.  They also point to the recent Supreme Court ruling in Town of Greece v. Galloway, which permits the Christian prayer at public meetings.

Americans United, together with the ACLU, though, counter that while the county is right that Christian prayer is allowed under the Supreme Court ruling, counties are not permitted to set up procedures or rules that disallows non-Christian faiths or even those with no faith from offering their own forms of prayers as well.

“In Greece [v. Galloway] , the town allowed invited clergy to deliver sectarian invocations at Town Council meetings,” the letter co-authored by the groups demanding a more inclusive policy reads. “Since most of the invited clergy were Christian, most of the prayers were Christian as well. The Court found that this was not by design; rather, ‘[t]he town at no point excluded or denied an opportunity to a would-be prayer giver. Its leaders maintained that a minister or layperson of any persuasion, including an atheist, could give the invocation.’”

The Americans United and the ACLU also say that the Virginia county’s current non-constitutional policy has been used to exclude more than polytheistic faiths. While the Sikh faith is a strict monotheistic tradition, local Sikh leaders were also not permitted on the county’s current list of approved pray-ers, making the policy clearly biased.

Photo Credit: Jeremy Whiting (Wiccans-Illustrative)

About the author

Tamar is a New York based freelance writer and photographer whose work has appeared in over 15 publications. You can catch her work regularly on Issue Hawk, Latest, Jspace, and MediaGlobal.