Virginia County Loses Long Fight For Christian Prayers At Public Meetings

| by Michael Allen
Screen Capture.Screen Capture.

A four-year battle over Christian prayers during public meetings by the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors in Virginia appears to be over.

Barbara Hudson, a local resident, filed a lawsuit in 2011 claiming the board members were violating the Establishment Clause of the Constitution by favoring a specific religion.

County officials claimed that the U.S. Supreme Court had upheld prayers to a specific faith, in a previous case, as long as they didn't proselytize or attack another faith.

U.S. District Judge Michael Urbanski maintained and modified his previous injunction against the prayers by citing a U.S. Supreme Court case last week in Richmond, Virginia, noted The Roanoke Times.

In his ruling, Urbanski said the board members told the audience to rise during prayers and said at least once: "If you don’t want to hear this prayer, you can leave. Please stand up."

Urbanski added, "The fact that the Pittsylvania County Board compels public participation in the prayers in addition to dictating their content compounds the problem and tends to create a coercive atmosphere."

Board of Supervisors chairwoman Brenda Bowman told WDBJ7 that she was surprised by Judge Urbanski's ruling, but didn't say if the board planned to appeal.

ACLU of Virginia legal director Rebecca Glenberg, who represented Hudson, said in a statement:

"This opinion affirms that the First Amendment does not allow government officials to impose their religious beliefs on those who attend public meetings. Since our initial victory in this case over two years ago, the Board has been opening its meetings with a moment of silence, which allows everyone to pray or not pray as they choose. We hope that the Board will now stop fighting for the right to compose official government prayers for everyone at the meeting."

Sources: WDBJ7, The Roanoke Times, ACLU Of Virginia
Image Credit: Screen capture via WDBJ7