Prayer case appealed to high court

Wiccan priestess sued Great Falls over naming Christ

GREAT FALLS — The town of Great Falls has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to continue its fight against a resident who opposes official prayers to Jesus Christ at town council meetings.

The 90-day deadline for filing an appeal ended today. A petition was filed Friday, said town attorney Brian Gibbons.

The town is looking forward to a resolution to the long-standing controversy, Gibbons said.

Town officials voted 6-1 in November to appeal the case filed by Darla Wynne, a Great Falls resident and Wiccan high priestess. Wynne sued the town of about 2,200 residents in 2001 for using the name of Jesus Christ in prayers said before council meetings.

A federal court ruling in August 2003 banned reference to a specific deity in prayers at the town’s meetings, prompting Great Falls to fight back. A three-judge appellate panel ruled against the town in July. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in November that it would not hear the town’s appeal.

But the town again decided to continue its fight. Legal experts have said the appeal is a waste of time.

Wynne agrees but acknowledges she’s a bit concerned about the future success of her case.

“I’ve got my own paranoia because of the Bush administration,” Wynne said. “During the presidential inauguration, a prayer was done in the name of Jesus Christ. That sends a message that if the president can do it, anyone can do it. That kind of spooked me.”

Wynne’s attorney, Herbert Buhl III of Columbia, will have 30 days to reply after his office has been officially notified that the appeal has been filed, he said. The Supreme Court has until the end of its term in July to decide to hear the case, he said.

Buhl, too, believes the appeal is a waste of time. A California court recently ruled that specific deity prayers could not be used to open public meetings, he said.

“There is a great body of law that says this is not an acceptable prayer,” Buhl said. “The Supreme Court will rely on previous cases to decide this case.”

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