Sunday, May 31, 2015

District Court Modifies, But Will Not Dissolve, Injunction Barring Sectarian Invocations

In Hudson v. Pittsylvania County, Virginia, (WD VA, May 28, 2015), a Virginia federal district court modified, but refused to dissolve, its prior injunction (issued before the Supreme Court's Town of Greece decision) barring sectarian prayer at Pittsylvania County's Board of Supervisors meetings. The court said in part:
By opening its meetings with prayers led by Board members, the Supervisors of Pittsylvania County determined the content of the prayers offered at Board meetings and did so by consistently referencing the tenets of one denomination. In so doing, the Board involved itself “in religious matters to a far greater degree” than was the case in Town of Greece.... Moreover, by delivering the prayers to the assembled public and asking them to stand for the prayers, the Board members “directed the public to participate in the prayers.”... Finally, because the Board itself determined the content of the Pittsylvania County prayers, persons of other faiths had no opportunity to offer opening prayers in their faith traditions. As such, the Supreme Court’s decision in Town of Greece was decided on very different facts, and its decision does not alter the conclusion that the prayer practice of the Board of Supervisors of Pittsylvania County violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
While the injunction in this case will be modified to eliminate any suggestion that legislative prayer must be nonsectarian, the Board’s exclusive practice of determining the content of and leading the citizens of Pittsylvania County in prayer associated with one faith tradition at the opening of Board meetings will remain enjoined.
Last August the district court had issued an opinion expressing a similar conclusion (see prior posting), but refused to modify the injunction then because 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. In December, the 4th Circuit dismissed the appeal finding that it was untimely. (See prior posting.)