Wiccan’s Right to Pray, Simpson v. Chesterfield County  

The Board of Supervisors of Chesterfield County has a prayer at each of its meetings. The prayer is delivered by a local clergy person drawn from a list maintained by the County. Cyndi Simpson, a Wiccan, asked to be included on the list. She received a letter from the Chesterfield County Attorney, which stated “ Chesterfield’s non-sectarian invocations are traditionally made to a divinity that is consistent with the Judeo-Christian tradition. Based upon our review of Wicca, it is neo-pagan and invokes polytheistic, pre-Christian deities. Accordingly, we cannot honor your request to be included on the list of religious leaders that are invited to provide invocations at the meetings of the Board of Supervisors.” The Board has refused even to sit down and talk to Cyndi about the issue. We have filed a suit in federal court in Richmond, claiming that the Board’s position violates Cyndi’s religious and free speech rights under the First Amendment, and her right to equal protection of the law under the Fourteenth Amendment. We have asked the court to require the board to allow Cyndi to pray, or, even better, to stop having the prayers altogether. Both parties have filed motions for summary judgment, and oral arguments were heard on July 22, 2003. On November 14, 2003 the judge ruled in our favor, holding that Cyndi’s exclusion violated the Establishment Clause. The county appealed. Oral arguments were heard on February 3, 2005. On April 7, 2005, the Fourth Circuit reversed the District Court, holding that Chesterfield’s policy is constitutional. We subsequently filed a petition for rehearing en banc, which was denied.  On August 9, 2005, the ACLU filed a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. The U.S. Supreme Court denied the ACLU's petition for certiorari on Ocobter 11, 2005.

Court Documents:

Petition for Writ of Certiorari, filed August 9, 2005- U.S. Supreme Court
Appellee's Petition for Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc- U.S. Court of Appeals, 4th Circuit
Decision, April 14, 2005- U.S. Court of Appeals, 4th Circuit
Appellee's Reply Brief- U.S. Court of Appeals, 4th Circuit
Decision, November 14, 2003- U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia
Complaint- U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia

Attorney(s)

Rebecca Glenberg, ACLU of Virginia; Ayesha Kahn, Americans United For Separation of Church and State.

Pro Bono Law Firm(s)

Victor M. Glasberg

Date filed

December 6, 2002

Court

U.S. District Court, Richmond

Status

Closed

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