Simpson v. Chesterfield County
jean.dudley at gmail.com
Fri Apr 15 06:25:13 PDT 2005
On Apr 14, 2005, at 11:01 PM, Lund, Christopher wrote:
> The Fourth Circuit just released a very interesting case, Simpson v.
> Chesterfield County - available here,
> It's a fascinating twist on Marsh v. Chambers. Simpson is
> a Wiccan who brought suit against the County's practice of prayer.
> Now most of the lawsuits in Marsh's wake have been to shut the prayer
> down, either on the basis that the public entity is not sufficiently
> "legislative" or because the prayer was somehow "sectarian." But
> Simpson is not trying to shut the prayer down; she's trying to join in
> - the Board opened up their meetings to members of the public to come
> and give prayers. (The prayer-givers were overwhelmingly Christian,
> but there was at least one example each of a Muslim and Jewish
> prayer-giver.) Simpson wrote the Board, asking for her turn. They
> turned her down, saying that their invocations "are traditionally made
> to a divinity that is consistent with the Judeo-Christian tradition"
> (their words). (Simpson, by the way, was a monotheist and her
> invocations were entirely nondenominational - well within that aspect
> of Marsh.)
> The Fourth Circuit today upheld the Board's policy,
> holding that Marsh v. Chambers gives the County the discretion not
> only to have a nondenominational prayer, but also to select the
> prayer-giver. Basically, the Court's reasoning boils down to this:
> The prayer-giver in Marsh was of a single denomination, a Presbyterian
> chaplain. And if Nebraska could have a single Presbyterian chaplain
> give prayers for sixteen years, surely the County could have a more
> inclusive policy that includes at least some others (i.e., Baptists,
> Catholics, Jews, Muslims, but not Wiccans). Of no concern to the
> Court is the fact that Simpson was singled out for exclusion (unlike
> Marsh), or that the basis of the singling out was theological. The
> Court also tersely dismisses as inapplicable a passage from Marsh that
> suggested that "proof that the chaplain's reappointment stemmed from
> an impermissible motive" would be constitutionally problematic.
> Thoughts? (I certainly have mine, but I am biting my
> tongue for the moment.)
Plenty of thoughts.
George Bush was quoted before the 2000 election that he thought Wicca
wasn't a "real" religion, and therefore was not entitled to protection
under the First Amendment. His words seem to echo the vast majority of
American opinion on Wicca and Neo-Paganism. Part of the problem is the
general perception that Wicca and Neo-Paganism are "made up" religions,
and therefore are invalid.
We could get into all sorts of discussion about what is "real
religion", but that's not the point; the government has no business
deciding what is a real religion over what isn't.
In Texas, there is a big push to disqualify Unitarians because it's not
a "real" religion; I find that pretty mind boggling, personally.
There there is a situation where a boy was suspended from school for
wearing make-up; He claims it's a part of his Wiccan faith.
I find that dubious; As a Wiccan priestess myself, there is no Wiccan
dogma that stipulates the wearing of goth makeup outside of ritual.
However, Wicca is a dogma-free religion. "An it harm none, do what
thou will" is one of the major beliefs. I suspect it's ignorance on
the part of the article's author--also you will note that "neo-pagan"
is used instead of Neo-Pagan. This is a common mistake, but the OED
and all American Dictionaries stipulate that proper names of religions
and religious groups are capitalized. You don't see "judeo-christian",
Never mind that I think he looks like a caricature of a KISS member.
What I think about his make-up isn't at issue. What is at issue is his
right to express his religious beliefs as he sees fit. I also think
that his argument should be based on sex-discrimination, not religious
freedom. Girls are allowed to wear makeup at the school, boys are
In Simpson v. Chesterfield County, I think the county erred by saying
that prayers were limited to Judeo-Christian invocations. That's
endorsement of a religious group, and that's illegal.
Future Law Student
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