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Cuccinelli on public prayer: follow the 4th Circuit

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli says there are two ways local governments can meet the prevailing legal standard for prayer at government meetings.

In an opinion letter arising from the dispute over Christian prayers at Pittsylvania County meetings, Cuccinelli said officials can either request nonsectarian prayers or cast a wide net for clergy so that the prayers – taken as a whole – do not advance one particular faith.

Pittsylvania County is fighting an ACLU lawsuit over prayers at supervisors’ meetings. The civil rights group complained the prayers at county meetings are uniformly Christian. The county’s response included moving the prayers to a period before the meetings are officially opened.

Cuccinelli’s advice was prompted by an inquiry from two state delegates who asked if prayers referring to Jesus Christ violated the Constitution.

Cuccinelli’s letter analyzes a recent 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals opinion where a two-judge majority found that Christian prayers at North Carolina government meetings violated the Constitution’s Establishment Clause.

In a dissent, Judge Paul Niemeyer claimed the majority judges got it wrong, arguing their formula for Constitutional prayer would improperly force government officials to analyze prayers for sectarian content.

By Peter Vieth

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