- The Washington Times - Monday, October 14, 2002

A Wiccan priestess wants the Board of Supervisors of Chesterfield County, Va., to add her name to the list of clergy members who say prayers before board meetings.
"I am a witch and I am fine with that," said Cyndi Simpson, a member of Reclaiming Tradition of Wicca. "I have something good to share, and I think they should let me."
She has encountered nothing but polite resistance from the county government, which allows nonsectarian prayers at the start of board meetings.
"Chesterfield's nonsectarian invocations are traditionally made to a divinity that is consistent with the Judeo-Christian tradition," Chesterfield County Attorney Steven Micas told Miss Simpson in a letter denying her request to offer an invocation last month.
"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."
Repeated calls to Mr. Micas' office for comment were not returned.
Miss Simpson, 47, has been Wiccan for the past six years. She described her faith as "principle driven, not creed driven." The main component of Wicca, she said, is the "Wicca Rede": "Do as ye will and ye harm none."
"Basically, this is saying do whatever you want but don't hurt anyone," Miss Simpson said of her group's cardinal rule. "It's a very specific rule, and it means there is no such thing as a bad or evil witch."
Miss Simpson said she wants to make sure that all religious faiths in her county are represented at the county hearings if any are represented at all.
"Personally, I don't think [the board] should be doing this. But if they are going to do it, they should reflect the religious diversity of the entire county," she said. "Government does not need to decide what is a legitimate religion and what is not."
Kent Willis, executive director of the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said he is troubled by the Chesterfield board, which he said is violating Miss Simpson's constitutional rights.
"There are multiple violations here," he said. "Chesterfield County has now announced that its official religion is one of the Judeo-Christian faith. It is also violating the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and is a violation of her right to free speech."
Mr. Willis said his group has not decided what action, if any, to take.
Chesterfield County, south of Richmond, has had members of non-Judeo-Christian faiths offer invocations.
The Rev. Enid Virago, pastor of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Richmond, offered an invocation several weeks ago at a county planning board meeting. Unitarian Universalists live their lives according to principles, not deities.
"You come into our church, you can be sitting next to a pagan, a Buddhist, a Christian or a Wiccan," said Miss Virago, 47.
She said she was invited to the planning board meeting by a member and encountered no resistance to her nonsectarian invocation.
Miss Simpson, a private-sector mediator who spent 20 years working as a program director for state and local agencies, said there is a lack of information in the mainstream about her faith and that she understands that people question it.
In the Wicca tradition, which she said is a modern religion originating in post-World War II Britain, the "goddess" is supreme, but there is no formal recognition or name for this entity.
"For Wiccans, divinity is everywhere and in everyone. I am the goddess. You are the goddess," she said.
She said that while she has not thought much about what type of invocation she would offer, she would be mindful that most others in attendance would not be of the same faith.
"I would probably talk about the creator of the world and not give a specific title or reference," she said. "I would be very careful to do a nonsectarian invocation that would have neutral language."

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