On Tuesday, the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was scheduled to hear an appeal out of Pittsylvania County regarding that locality's prayer policy at its board of supervisors meetings. A district court ruled last year that the county's prayer policy was unconstitutional, but that was before this year's Supreme Court decision, Greece v.Galloway, that upheld prayers at just such meetings. Instead of hearing the merits of the case or whether or not Pittsylvania's prayer policy is constitutional under the Greece decision, however, the three judge panel of the Fourth Circuit determined that they did not have jurisdiction and that the case should first be reheard by the district court that made the earlier ruling.
The district court judge in the Pittsylvania case, Michael Urbanski, ruled the prayers unconstitutional and in the time since the Greece decision said that the decision was the Fourth Circuits to make, but they instead returned the case to him. State Senator Bill Stanley (R-20, Moneta), a longtime advocate for religious liberty in the General Assembly, is the attorney defending the board of supervisors and it's prayer policy and argued before the Fourth Circuit today.
At issue is the long standing tradition of sectarian prayers before public, government meetings, such as boards of supervisors, city councils and school boards. The ACLU has argued for years that such prayers violate the First Amendment, but earlier this year the U.S. Supreme Court rejected every argument made by the ACLU and upheld such prayers. Now, because the district court opinion in Pittsylvania prohibits prayer, it must hear arguments about why the Greece decision should or should not overturn that opinion.
In the meantime, The Family Foundation will be working with our friends at Alliance Defending Freedom, which won the Greece decision, and legislators to ensure that Virginia's law reflects the Supreme Court's opinion, clarifying the prayer policies that are allowed, so that no other locality has to go through what Pittsylvania is having to endure because of the ACLU.