Federal Judge Orders Pittsylvania Co. Board to Halt Prayers

Danville, VA - Federal Judge Michael Urbanski issued a preliminary injunction Friday telling the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors to halt prayers before meetings until a final ruling in their suit with the ACLU is made.

The controversy started on Aug. 16 when the ACLU of Virginia wrote a letter on behalf of an unidentified woman, asking the Board of Supervisors to stop using Christian prayers to open their meetings. The woman said she felt excluded when the members opened with a sectarian prayer. When they refused, the ACLU sued on her behalf on the grounds the prayers violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Judge Urbanski wrote in his injunction that "there can be little doubt that [the] plaintiff is likely to succeed on the merits" of her claim that the prayers violate the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The judge found, "Every time the plaintiff attends a Board meeting and comes in direct contact with an overtly Christian prayer, she experiences a recurring First Amendment injury."

The Board will still be allowed to pray before meeting as long as they do not mention a specific religion or invoke the name of a specific deity.

In a separate opinion, Judge Urbanski denied Pittsylvania County's request to dismiss the case. A third opinion denied plaintiff Jane Doe's request to remain anonymous, giving her thirty days either to appeal the ruling or disclose her identity to the court.