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Judge sides with ACLU on Pittsylvania prayer issue
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Judge sides with ACLU on Pittsylvania prayer issue

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In a legal battle that began in September 2011, a federal judge Tuesday permanently barred the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors from offering sectarian Christian prayers during its meetings.

U.S. District Judge Michael Urbanski issued the ruling Tuesday, giving a victory to Pittsylvania County resident Barbara Hudson and the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, who represented Hudson. Hudson filed the lawsuit in September 2011.

Urbanski had issued a preliminary injunction in February 2012 ordering the board to cease holding public prayers that mention Jesus Christ during meetings pending the case’s outcome. His ruling Tuesday made the injunction permanent, which Hudson and the ACLU sought.

“The case law in this jurisdiction is crystal clear,” ACLU Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg said Wednesday. “Governments may not have sectarian prayers at their meetings.”

Supervisors, represented by state Sen. Bill Stanley, a lawyer, were not pleased with the ruling.

“Obviously, I’m disappointed,” said Tunstall Supervisor Tim Barber, who served as the board’s chairman during most of the case in 2011 and 2012. “I’ll respect the decision.”

“I did everything I could to defend the county,” said Barber, who appeared on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” in August 2011, just after the ACLU — after being contacted by Hudson — asked the board to stop holding prayers. The county defied the request and Hudson and the ACLU filed the lawsuit the following month.

“This is a case that never should have gone to court,” Glenberg said. “They should’ve looked at case law and changed their practice accordingly.”

Stanley said he was disappointed but not surprised by the ruling.

“We understood it was an uphill battle.”

The county gave a “valiant and reasonable effort in defending religious liberty,” Stanley said.

“I expect to speak to the board to decide what the next move will be,” he said.

Board Chairman Marshall Ecker said of the decision, “If it was up to me, I would contest it.”

The ruling infringes on individual rights and Jesus’ name is being taken out of everything, Ecker said.

Hudson contended that the sectarian prayers violated the First Amendment, amounting to government advancement of religion.

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