ACLU Lawsuit Seeks to End West Virginia Judge's Courtroom Prayer Sessions

May 11, 2000

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CHARLESTON, WV -- The ACLU of West Virginia today filed a federal lawsuit seeking to end a state court judge's unconstitutional practice of leading prayer sessions before grand jury proceedings.

The ACLU learned of the practice last fall, and on February 8 of this year wrote to Judge Andrew N. Frye, Jr. citing the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment as the basis for asking that the prayers cease.

"The law is clear that public officials can 'make no law respecting the establishment of religion,'" said Hilary Chiz, Executive Director of the ACLU. "It's hard to believe that Judge Frye doesn't know what he is doing."

"How can people of other faiths, or no religion at all, expect fair treatment in a court where Christianity is proclaimed unconstitutionally?" she added.

In legal papers filed on behalf of the state ACLU affiliate and member Brad Taylor of Mineral County, the ACLU said that Judge Frye routinely introduces a minister identified by his church affiliation who asks the convened grand jurors to bow their heads, then leads them in prayer.

The ACLU lawsuit asks for declaratory judgment that the "policies, practices or customs" be ruled unconstitutional and for a court order to immediately end the practice.

The complaint was filed by Harry P. Waddell, volunteer lawyer for the ACLU, who practices in Martinsburg.

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