Monday, February 06, 2012

Court Says Christian Prayers At County Board Meetings Violate Establishment Clause

On Friday, a Virginia federal district court issued three separate opinions in Jane Doe v. Pittsylvania County, Virginia, (WD VA, Feb. 2, 2012).  In the first opinion, the court denied defendants' motion to dismiss the lawsuit which challenges on Establishment Clause grounds the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors' practice of opening its sessions with Christian prayers.The court held that plaintiff, who regularly attends Board meetings, has standing to bring the challenge. The court also rejected defendants' arguments that doctrines of legislative immunity and privilege require dismissal. It concluded that plaintiff adequately alleged that the county's practice violates the Establishment Clause.

In a second opinion, the court granted a preliminary injunction, barring the county "during the pendency of this case, from continuing its present practice of routinely opening its meetings with Christian prayers." It held that plaintiff is "likely to prevail on her claim that the Board's practice of regularly opening meetings with prayers making specific reference to Jesus Christ constitutes government advancement and endorsement of one faith..."

Finally in a third opinion, the court held that plaintiff cannot continue to prosecute the case as "Jane Doe," but must furnish her actual name if she intends to proceed with the lawsuit. An ACLU press release reports on the decisions.