First Violation of Town of Greece? Chesterfield, VA Denies “Neo-Pagan” Ability to Lead Prayer

May 26th, 2014

As fast as greased lightning, we may have the first violation of Town of Greece v. Galloway. The ACLU claims that Chesterfield, VA has limited legislative prayers to “ordained religious leaders of monotheistic religions.” Apparently, they have denied a Wiccan request to lead the invocation:

Almost all clergy who had delivered invocations represented Christian denominations, however, and the county denied a Wiccan’s request to be added to the invocation list on the ground that Wicca is “neo-pagan and invokes polytheistic, pre-Christian deities,” and therefore it does not fall within “the Judeo-Christian tradition.” That claim led to a lawsuit sponsored by Americans United and the ACLU of Virginia.

The board continues to exclude some faiths, the letter says, even those that are monotheistic. For example, the county’s list of religious organizations invited to deliver invocations excludes the Chesterfield County Sikh congregation Richmond Gurdwara, even though, according to the group’s website, Sikhs practice “strict monotheism.”

If true, and Greece is the word, this practice would not stand. Here is a letter that goes together with the Greece claim. Like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong.

Update: Kevin Walsh writes at Mirror of Justice that this policy seems consistent with Town of Greece and Marsh v. Chambers. If the city has a policy that limits those who can speak to “monotheistic religions,” I don’t see how that complies with Justice Kennedy’s discussion about how all faiths must be invited. In fact, a Wiccan priestess was one of the few non-Christian leaders who gave an invocation before the session in the Town of Greece.

Update 2: While Justice Kennedy didn’t mandate a take-all-comers policy, I find a policy limiting clergy to “monotheistic” religions inconsistent with his opinion.

For example, this passage from Greece:

The town made reasonable efforts to identify all of the congregations located within its borders and represented that it would welcome a prayer by any minister or layman who wished to give one. That nearly all of the congregations in town turned out to be Christian does not reflect an aversion or bias on the part of town leaders against minority faiths. So long as the town maintains a policy of nondiscrimina­ tion, the Constitution does not require it to search beyond its borders for non-Christian prayer givers in an effort to achieve religious balancing. The quest to promote “a ‘diversity’ of religious views” would require the town “to make wholly inappropriate judgments about the number of religions [it] should sponsor and the relative frequency with which it should sponsor each,” Lee, 505 U. S., at 617 (Souter, J., concurring), a form of government entangle­ ment with religion that is far more troublesome than the current approach.

I read this as saying that the Town is not required to look outside its borders to find clergy from other religions. But within Chesterfield, polytheists who are willing to lead prayers are being turned away (based on the ACLU’s facts). This would not seem to be a “policy of nondiscrimination” of those in the community.