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ACLU Threatens Lawsuit Unless County Stops Opening Meetings With Prayer

Written By photo 7 background picture on Friday, August 26, 2011 | 5:26 PM



The Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors said it will continue to open meetings with prayer — and fight in court if necessary — despite a warning from the American Civil Liberties Union that Christian prayer violates the First Amendment.

In a letter sent to the county last week, the ACLU said court rulings permit prayer at government meetings only as broad expressions of faith that do not endorse a particular religion.

“The ACLU of Virginia has learned that opening invocations at the Pittsylvania Board of Supervisors meetings are consistently Christian in nature; that is, they explicitly refer to Jesus Christ,” said ACLU legal director Rebecca Glenberg.

“I write to inform you that such sectarian prayers by a government body violate the First Amendment under the clear precedent of the United States Supreme Court and the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and to ask that you cease the practice immediately.”

Supervisors openly defied the ACLU warning last Tuesday, opening the meeting with not one but seven individual prayers.

The board’s chairman, Tunstall District Supervisor Tim Barber, said the county is willing to go to court if necessary.

“I’m prepared to fight,” said Barber. “This is part of our heritage in Pittsylvania County. Prayer before meetings has been going on ever since the county began. In all these years, we’ve never had a complaint.”