FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
RICHMOND, VA -- A Virginia judge who last month rejected a Wiccan's application to perform marriage ceremonies today reversed himself under pressure from the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia.
Williamsburg Circuit Court Judge Samuel Powell approved the application of High Priestess Stephanie LaTronica, who presides over the Coven of the Rose Moon, a Williamsburg-area congregation associated with the Church of Wicca.
"I am relieved, and I feel vindicated by the judge's change of heart," said LaTronica. "However, I should not have had to endure this kind of delay, nor should I have had to rely on the ACLU for help -- this should have been a routine matter for the courts."
"Wiccans may be small in number, but we deserve the same constitutional protections as any other religion," she added.
Shortly after receiving her ordination as a priestess, LaTronica applied to the Williamsburg Circuit Court for a permission to marry members of her congregation. In response, she received a letter from Judge Powell stating that he was unfamiliar with the Wiccan faith and asking to see more documentation, which she supplied. Later, however, the judge denied the application without giving a reason.
In a letter to Judge Powell earlier this week, ACLU of Virginia cooperating attorney John Levy said that Wicca is a recognized religion and that Ms. LaTronica had met the requirements necessary to obtain a license under Virginia law. The ACLU asked the judge to reconsider his decision in order to avoid an appeal to a higher court.
According to the ACLU, this is not the first time Wiccans have had difficulty obtaining licenses in Virginia. Last year, the ACLU represented Rosemary Kooiman, a Wiccan high priestess who was denied a license to perform marriages by a Fairfax County Circuit Court judge. That judge stated in open court that he did not believe Wicca was a religion.
After another application, this time to the Alexandria Circuit Court, was denied, Mrs. Kooiman finally was granted the right to preside over wedding ceremonies by the Norfolk Circuit Court.
"Even the most open-minded people forget sometimes that we are a nation of many religions," said Kent Willis, Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia, "and that while some religions are less familiar than others, in the eyes of the law they all have the same status."
Willis noted that Wicca dates back several thousand years and is recognized by the U.S. military as well as the Internal Revenue Service.
"Sometimes there is legitimate disagreement over whether certain beliefs comprise a religion," he said. "But when Wiccans are denied the right to practice their faith, there can be no doubt that religious discrimination has occurred."
In addition to Levy, other lawyers representing Ms. LaTronica for the ACLU of Virginia are Frank Feibelman of Richmond, and Richard Ferris, Associate Director of the ACLU of Virginia.