Court to hear Wiccan’s appeal

Witch was denied the chance to pray before Chesterfield board

The federal appeals court in Richmond will hear arguments this morning on whether a witch should be allowed to give the opening prayer at Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors meetings.

Cynthia Simpson, a Wiccan priestess who calls herself a witch, was denied a place on the list of religious leaders invited to pray at board meetings because the invocations “are traditionally made to a divinity that is consistent with the Judeo-Christian tradition,” she was told in a letter from the county.

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Wicca’s beliefs are not of a deity that is separate from humanity, but that human beings and everything in and on the earth are all part of what is divine.

When Simpson sued the county in U.S. District Court, Magistrate Judge Dennis W. Dohnal ruled in her favor. He said the county policy that invocations be in the Judeo-Christian tradition excluded Simpson “because of a stated government preference for a different set of religious beliefs.” That violates the Constitution, Dohnal said.

Chesterfield County appealed the case to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

County Attorney Steven L. Micas will argue for Chesterfield. Rebecca K. Glenberg of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia represents Simpson. The hearing will be the second of three this morning starting at 9 a.m. at the University of Richmond Law School.

Yesterday, Micas defended the county’s position. “We have had this policy in place for 20 years. It’s remained through five boards of supervisors. The law supports the policy,” he said.

Kent Willis, executive director of the Virginia ACLU, disagrees. “Chesterfield County has asked the 4th Circuit to stand on its head 200 years of tradition and law protecting the rights of all religions to be treated equally,” he said.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)
Richmond Times-Dispatch, USA
Feb. 3, 2005
Tom Campbell and Meredit Bonny

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