Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors refused to allow Wiccan to deliver invocationThe Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments tomorrow in case involving the right of all faiths to participate in prayer ceremonies that open government meetings.
In fall 2002, Cynthia Simpson, a Wiccan, asked to be placed on the list of religious leaders invited to deliver the invocation at meetings of the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors. She later received a letter from a County official stating that only persons who practice a religion within the Judeo-Christian tradition are allowed to participate.
In July 2003 U.S. District Court magistrate judge Dennis W. Dohnal ruled that by preferring some religions over others, the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors violated the constitutional mandate for separation of church and state and discriminated against minority religions. The judge ordered the County to change the policy to include all faiths or to stop using the policy altogether. Instead, Chesterfield appealed.
“In appealing this case, Chesterfield County has asked the Fourth Circuit to stand on its head 200 years of tradition and law protecting the right of all religions to be treated equally,” said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis.
For many years Chesterfield County has opened its meetings with prayers, usually offered by clergy from Christian denominations. When Simpson asked that her name be added to the list of those allowed to pray at the meetings, she received a letter from County Attorney Steven L. Micas that included the following:
"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 deities. 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."
ACLU of Virginia Contacts: Kent Willis, Executive Director Rebecca K. Glenberg, Legal Director 804-644-8022