ACLU of Virginia Weighs in on Sectarian Prayers at Chesapeake City Council Meetings

Affiliate: ACLU of Virginia
August 5, 2009 12:00 am

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ACLU says Council has been misinformed by Alliance Defense Fund and Family Foundation


Chesapeake, VA – In a letter emailed earlier today, the ACLU of Virginia has informed members of the Chesapeake City Council and the City Attorney that the sectarian prayers being used to open recent meetings are unconstitutional.

The ACLU’s letter, from Legal Director Rebecca K. Glenberg, responds to a letter from the Alliance Defense Fund and the Family Foundation arguing that Chesapeake City Council must allow sectarian prayers to be used to officially open Council meetings.

“The Supreme Court has made it clear that religious liberty is endangered when we allow the government to promote one religion over others, which is precisely what legislative bodies do when they open their meetings with sectarian prayers,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “The court precedents on this issue are recent and crystal clear, so I must admit that we are rather mystified by the advice being offered to Chesapeake City Council by Alliance Defense Fund and the Family Foundation.”

In her letter Glenberg points out that in recent cases involving meetings of the Fredericksburg City Council and the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that official meeting-opening prayers are not individual expressions of religious belief, which are constitutionally protected, but government speech, which may not show a preference for one religious denomination over others.

Glenberg takes issue with the ADF/FF statement that “a policy which mandates only nonsectarian prayers would itself likely be unconstitutional.” This, Glenberg writes, is “demonstrably false” because in 2008 the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Fredericksburg City Council’s nonsectarian prayer policy after it was challenged by councilmember Hashmel Turner. Turner asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case, but it refused, allowing the court of appeals decision to stand.

According to a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, sent in June to Chesapeake Mayor Alan Krasnoff, the City of Chesapeake requires nonsectarian prayers to open its meetings, but the policy is frequently violated.

A copy of the ACLU of Virginia’s letter is available online at:

A copy of the ADF/FF letter is available online at:

A copy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s letter is available online at:

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