The primary development in the courts this past week (April 14) was the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Simpson v. Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors. Meetings of Chesterfield County’s Supervisors are opened with a “non-sectarian invocation”. The Board invites religious leaders from various congregations in the county to give the invocation. The county refused the request of Cynthia Simpson to be added to the list of invited religious leaders. Simpson, who described herself as a “witch”, belonged to the Reclaiming Tradition of Wicca. The county attorney stated that invocations are normally made to a divinity consistent with the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Relying on the 1983 case of Marsh v. Chambers that upheld Nebraska’s legislative chaplain, the court stated that legislative invocations are not scrutinized with the same rigor as other religious activities. Since Marsh permitted the selection of a legislative chaplain of one faith, the more inclusive policy of Chesterfield County cannot be faulted under the Establishment Clause.
News media have reported widely on this case, with headlines such as Wiccan Bias Suit Against Va. County Dismissed.
The other religion case decided in the courts last week (April 12) was the Washington state court of appeals decision in State v. Gonzalez. It upheld defendant’s bigamy conviction over his claim that his religious convictions required that he be married to any woman with whom he had sexual relations. Otherwise he would commit a sin.