Witch Way the First Amendment?

Becky Dale alerts us to an excellent editorial in The Free Lance Star on the witch invocation kerfluffle in Chesterfield County. A Wiccan wanted a turn at delivering a prayer at a Board of Supervisors meeting, but the County refused to allow her. A lower court affirmed her right; the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the County.

Just the title of the editorial is priceless: “Witchshaft.” There are some other great images, too. Here’s the description of the Fourth Circuit’s reasoning: “Since the only kinds of prayers Chesterfield tolerates are generic ones, there’s no requirement that every single cult, creed, or coven have a place on the county’s devotional roster. If all flavors are vanilla, surely 100 vanilla producers suffice. No need for 101.”

This is the description of that reasoning’s impact: “The ACLU of Virginia, representing Ms. Simpson, is rightly steamed about the 4th Circuit ruling, which pays scrupulous attention to valve stems while ignoring the whole big Mac truck that’s flattened the First Amendment in Chesterfield County.”

The final graf is commonsense:

A public body may elect to omit all prayer. But, if not, surely the true civil-libertarian position is: More speech! No editing! No discrimination! Whatever words Ms. Simpson or Mr. Turner utters aren’t going to help establish any faith except the all-American one of free expression. That’s more than can be said for Chesterfield, the 4th Circuit, the ACLU of Virginia, and others lost in little laws.

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  1. Anonymous Avatar

    I have nothing to say.

  2. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    I’ve got problems with both sides of the debate. The Board of Supervisors strikes me as pretty dense, given the tenor of the times, to forbid the Wiccan from offering an invocation. They’re asking for it! … On the other hand, the Wiccan irritates me to no end. She knows her beliefs are in a tiny, tiny minority, and she knows they offend a lot of people. Why is she pushing the point? She demands respect for her minority view, but she shows no respect for the majority.

    One reason the social conservatives are so aggressive in pushing their agenda–an agenda I don’t share, by the way–is that the left-wing civil libertarians are pushing so hard to expunge any taint of religion from the public sphere. It’s called push back.

    Again, let me be totally clear. I’m an atheist of the Darwinian persuasion. I don’t share the agenda, much less the theological beliefs, of social conservatives. But I can read the Constitution. The first amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Somehow forbidding the establishment of religion has transmuted into forbidding the expression of religion, even when that expression is deeply rooted in the nation’s historical and cultural traditions.

  3. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Did I miss something here? How did we get from “make no law respecting establishment of religion” to “forbidding the establishment of religion”?

    Likewise, how did we get from not “prohibiting the free exercise thereof” to sanctioning that exercise in a public business forum?

  4. Becky Dale Avatar
    Becky Dale

    Religionlaw has a lot of commentary on the case in April. Here’s the link to April archives, scroll down to the last third of the page.

    I sent the Free Lance-Star editorial to Will as I was so impressed with the writing: the way the editorial was crafted, the way the ideas were expressed. We have talented editorial writers here in Virginia and Paul Akers at FLS is undoubtedly one of the most talented. Did you notice that bit of alliteration (cult, creed, coven)? The vanilla producers analogy so succinently captures the court’s reasoning, leaving the reader to ponder why we are limited to only one flavor. It calls the court’s reasoning into question without challenging it directly: it lets the reader ask the question “Now just why is it that we have only vanilla?” The whole editorial is such a delight to read. No matter where you stand on the issue itself.

  5. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Jim Bacon – you may want to change your self-described atheistic affiliation. From a website bio of Charles Darwin: “Darwin was not an atheist. He described himself as an agnostic, and it is likely that he retained a belief in some kind of personal God, although not a diety who, like some master puppeteer, took a direct and continuously intervening role in the evolutionary process and in human affairs.”

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