Attorney General Weighs in on Pittsylvania Co. Prayer Issue

Reporter: James Gherardi l Videographer: R.J. Burnette

Pittsylvania Co., VA - Virginia's Attorney General has weighed in on the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors lawsuit with the ACLU about prayers during meetings.

Ken Cuccinelli issued an opinion last month following a request from two Southside delegates. The attorney general made it very clear that there have been previous rulings regarding prayer during government meetings. Cuccinelli said he hopes the board heeds his warning so history doesn't repeat itself.

Two cases from the fourth circuit court of appeals Wynn vs. the Town of Great Falls from 2004 and Joyner vs. Forsyth County in 2010 had rulings that determined that sectarian prayer during government meetings is unconstitutional.

Both cases were included in Cuccinelli's opinion to the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors. Pittsylvania County Del. Don Merricks requested the opinion.

"The fourth circuit court of appeals has ruled that any reference to a particular religion would be wrong," he said.

Merricks says Cuccinelli makes a valid point. He understands why the board continues to pray, but he says prayer isn't above the law.

"As a person, I don't agree. But as a citizen and as somebody who's sworn to uphold the Constitution, we have to abide by the law," said Merricks.

"We're doing things totally different than the cases he referenced. We took the prayer off our agenda; we do it before our meeting, which changes the whole complex of the situation. At what point do you become a legislative body, and quit being an individual?" said Tim Barber, the chairman of the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors.

In both cases Cuccinelli references, the prayer was held during meetings. Board members say they now hold theirs before the gavel falls, making a huge difference.

"A member gets up and gives a prayer; he's giving his personal belief in prayer. We're not doing it as a board," said Barber.

That was the issue during preliminary hearings of the case. The ACLU argued prayer held by a group of board members in a government building before or during a meeting was one in the same.