Pittsylvania County Officials Are Still Fighting to Pray at Meetings (and Wasting a Lot of Money in the Process) December 23, 2014

Pittsylvania County Officials Are Still Fighting to Pray at Meetings (and Wasting a Lot of Money in the Process)

In 2012, the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors in Virginia began each meeting with a prayer to Jesus Christ.

An anonymous woman had sued the city in response — but a judge ruled that the only way for the lawsuit to proceed was if she revealed her identity.

In a country where atheists can get harassed for simply suggesting, “If people want to pray, they should do it privately, not on the taxpayers’ dime,” it’s no surprise the person wanted to keep her identity hidden.

But the lawsuit was too important and Barbara Hudson decided to shed the anonymity so the case could proceed:

The lawsuit against the board is not an attack on anyone’s religion, Hudson said. Supervisor-led sectarian Christian prayers during public meetings amount to government promotion of one religion over others. That creates a danger to everyone’s religious freedom, she said.

Why don’t the supervisors just pray to one God, with an all-encompassing invocation? Hudson asked.

“They could have avoided the whole thing by praying in the name of God,” said Hudson, who is not a Christian. “They want to promote their own version of religion.”

“I just think it’s very sad that the board of supervisors refuses to embrace the idea of God as a source of comfort and guidance, that it has to be sectarian religion,” Hudson said.

Hudson declined to reveal her faith.

“I think religion is a very deeply personal issue,” Hudson said.

(Well, it wouldn’t have been okay for them to pray to a generic God, either, in my opinion, but at least the lawsuit continued.)

After the Supreme Court ruled in Greece v. Galloway that sectarian prayers could be recited at government meetings, that should have settled the issue, right?

Not quite. That case was about citizens offering a religious (or non-religious) invocation, but in Pittsylvania, the issue was about government officials doing the same thing.

As far as we know, that’s still a no-go. Government officials can’t lead religious prayers at meetings.

In fact, Judge Michael Urbanski told the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors that they could not open their meetings with supervisor-led prayer, even after they requested an injunction on that ruling:

Put simply, the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors involved itself “in religious matters to a far greater degree” than was the case in Town of Greece… In so doing, the prayer practice in Pittsylvania County had the unconstitutional effect, over time, of officially advancing one faith or belief, violating “the clearest command of the Establishment Clause… that one religious denomination cannot be officially preferred over another.”

The county officials were not happy with that ruling, so they filed an appeal. The Appeals Court ruled on the issue last week… and the county lost again.

However, it wasn’t on the merits (or lack thereof) of the case. They lost because they didn’t fill out all the proper paperwork in time.

And to add well-deserved insult to injury, the ACLU, which had to do work on its end to fight the appeal, is now demanding that the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors pay up for wasting their time:

ACLU Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg said the group plans to ask for additional legal fees and costs generated from the time of the county’s appeal filed Sept. 18, 2013, to last week when the appellate court rejected it.

“It’s up to the judge to determine what we’re entitled to and how much of it is reasonable,” Glenberg said Monday.

The clock continues to tick to the extent that the ACLU is keeping track of costs, Glenberg said. However, whether the ACLU will seek attorneys’ fees from this point on depends on how successful it is at the outcome of the case, she said.

Glenberg would not reveal Monday how much more legal fees have accrued since 2013.

So far, this case has cost the county more than $50,000 in legal fees — and that’s just to the ACLU. Throw in the additional fees the ACLU wants, and fees to their own lawyers, and this is just a colossal waste of time and money… and all for wanting to pray to Jesus, something they could always do for free in silence or before the start of a meeting.

I’m shocked local taxpayers aren’t making a bigger ruckus about this. I would be furious to learn that my elected officials are pissing money away over something so unnecessary.

(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Scott for the link. Large portions of this article were posted earlier.)

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