Wednesday, August 06, 2014

District Court Says Town of Greece Decision Does Not Cover Invocations Offered Directly By County Board Members

After the U.S. Supreme Court decided the Town of Greece case last May, a number of local governments that had been enjoined by lower courts from opening council meetings with sectarian prayers petitioned lower courts to dissolve or modify the injunctions.  One of these was Pittsylvania County, Virginia. However, in Hudson v. Pittsylvania County, Virginia, (WD VA, Aug. 4, 2014), the federal district court held that while it was willing to modify its prior injunction, it would not dissolve it:
... unlike in Town of Greece, where invited clergy and laypersons offered the invocations, the Board members themselves led the prayers in Pittsylvania County. Thus, in contrast to Town of Greece, where the town government had no role in determining the content of the opening invocations at its board meetings, the government of Pittsylvania County itself, embodied in its elected Board members, dictated the content of the prayers opening official Board meetings. Established as it was by the Pittsylvania County government, that content was consistently grounded in the tenets of one faith. Further, because the Pittsylvania County Board members themselves served as exclusive prayer providers, persons of other faith traditions had no opportunity to offer invocations.
While the court was willing to modify the injunction to make it consistent with Town of Greece, it concluded it did not have jurisdiction to do so until the 4th Circuit to which the case had been appealed granted at least a limited remand. AP reports on the decision.