Jun 27, 2014

The City of Huntsville, Ala., discriminated against a Wiccan priest when it rescinded his invitation to deliver a prayer before a city council meeting, Americans United for Separation of Church and State says.

Blake Kirk had been scheduled to deliver an official invocation before the Huntsville City Council’s June 26 meeting, but his invitation was suddenly withdrawn just days before he was to speak. News reports said Kirk was uninvited due to community concerns about a Wiccan praying at the meeting.

“When the City of Huntsville denied a Wiccan the right to pray before an official meeting, it took a stand against certain religious viewpoints,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “That decision was plainly unconstitutional.”

AU sent a letter to city officials today, explaining that the U.S. Constitution does not permit local governing boards to bar anyone from giving a pre-meeting prayer on the basis of religion. Nor may anyone be barred from speaking because of the prejudices of the members of that community.

“Nor may city leaders deny or delay Mr. Kirk’s opportunity to speak on the ground that certain members of the community dislike Wiccans,” the letter says. “Community outrage or prejudice does not justify imposing special conditions on speakers from minority faiths.”

Said Gregory M. Lipper, AU’s Senior Litigation Counsel: “Local governments cannot exclude prayer-givers on the basis of religion. The city may not treat Wiccans as second-class citizens, and may not bend to community pressure to discriminate against religious minorities.”

AU’s letter asks that the town immediately reinstate Kirk’s invitation to deliver a prayer before a town council meeting. It requests a response within 15 days.

Along with Lipper, the letter was written by AU Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan and Madison Fellow Zachary Dietert.