Sep 15, 2011

A Wiccan woman who regularly attends Town Council meetings challenged Council members’ presentation of sectarian prayers before the meetings. While she initially filed the case without counsel, we later assisted her in finding an attorney. Thereafter, the district court held that the prayers were impermissible under the Supreme Court's decision in Marsh v. Chambers (in which the Court upheld the presentation of prayers before state legislatures) because of their sectarian nature. On appeal, we presented an amicus curiae brief to the Fourth Circuit in February 2004 arguing that the prayers run afoul of the Lemon test and are not sheltered by Marsh. Oral argument was presented in the case on June 2, 2004. On July 22, 2004, a panel of the Fourth Circuit unanimously ruled that the use of sectarian references is not justified under the holding of Marsh, and that such references unconstitutionally align the government with a single religion and discriminate against all other faiths. On November 1, 2004, the Fourth Circuit denied a petition for rehearing en banc filed by the defendants. The defendants filed a petition for certiorari in January 2005. The Supreme Court opted to hold the petition until it ruled in the Van Orden and McCreary cases, and then, in June 2005, decided not to hear the case.