- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 8, 2002

The Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is suing the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors for refusing to allow a Wiccan leader to give the invocation at the start of its meetings.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Richmond and says the Board of Supervisors is violating the constitutional ban on state-sponsored religion by denying Wiccan priestess Cynthia Simpson the opportunity to offer an invocation.
The lawsuit also says the board's policy violates the constitutional guarantee of equal protection.
"They are supposed to be making laws, not theological judgments," said the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, which has joined in the suit with the ACLU. "They do not believe Wicca to be a religion like Christianity, but government officials cannot be making these decisions."
The board regularly opens its meetings with a voluntary invocation by a leader of a Judeo-Christian denomination. Earlier this year, Miss Simpson asked the board of supervisors to allow her to give an invocation. She was denied.
"Chesterfield's nonsectarian invocations are traditionally made to a divinity that is consistent with the Judeo-Christian tradition," wrote Chesterfield County Attorney Steven Micas in a letter to Miss Simpson denying her request.
"Based upon our review of Wicca, it is neo-pagan and invokes polytheistic deities. Accordingly, we cannot honor your request to be included on the list of religious leaders," Mr. Micas wrote.
This statement, the lawsuit says, "represents nothing less than overt, official governmental disapproval of a religious tradition."
Kent Willis, executive director of the Virginia ACLU, said his group was left with no choice but to start litigation.
"More than anything, this situation demonstrates why state and religion should always be separate," he said. "As the framers of the Constitution understood from their own experiences, when the state uses its vast power to sponsor a religious activity, it will always make losers of some faiths and winners out of others. And that jeopardizes religious freedom."
Chesterfield County officials would not comment on the lawsuit, but Don Kappel, county director of public affairs, said he was not surprised by the action.
"The ACLU had hinted they might be interested in litigation," he said.
The lawsuit asks that Miss Simpson be added to the list of approved speakers or the practice of allowing invocations before meetings be halted.
"Since every court does not agree with our position [that prayers should not be a part of government meetings], another important belief is that all religious groups should be treated similarly," said Mr. Lynn, a minister in the United Church of Christ. "There really are two principles at stake here."

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