CFI Warns Roanoke Supervisor of Legal Action if Christians-Only Prayer Policy Is Enacted

May 12, 2014

Secular advocacy group the Center for Inquiry (CFI) has asked a county supervisor in Roanoke County, Virginia to rescind his proposal to allow only Christian prayers at public board meetings, calling such a policy discriminatory and in violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution, and warned of legal action if the policy is enacted.

Immediately following the Supreme Court decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway last week, which cleared the way for sectarian prayer at public meetings, Roanoke County Supervisor Al Bedrosian announced his intention to institute a policy that would bar any non-Christian invocations at county meetings. In an interview with the Roanoke Times, Bedrosian said that he intended to use this opportunity to “move toward our Christian heritage,” and asserted, “The freedom of religion doesn’t mean that every religion has to be heard … If we allow everything … where do you draw the line?”

“We would argue that the line is very simple,” wrote Nicholas Little, legal director of the Center for Inquiry, in a letter to Bedrosian. “‘Drawing the line’ to include Christians only is explicitly what you are not permitted to do. Such a policy is unconstitutional.” Little asked the supervisor to reconsider the policy, reminding him that while Greece v. Galloway may have allowed sectarian prayers, it did not in any way endorse religious discrimination. “Your proposed policy,” writes Little, “is essentially to put up a sign stating ‘Jews, Muslims & atheists need not apply.’ That is not  only unconscionable and un-American, it is clearly unconstitutional.”

“Such a policy sends a message to those of different faiths and no faith that they are lesser in your eyes, and lesser in the eyes of the County of Roanoke, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the United States,” wrote Little. “It stands in direct contrast to the egalitarian vision of great Virginians such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. If such a policy is implemented, we will have no choice but to file a lawsuit to have it declared unconstitutional.”

The full letter from Mr. Little to Mr. Bedrosian can be downloaded here: http://bit.ly/roanokeletter