An Americans United-sponsored lawsuit seeking U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs recognition of the Wiccan symbol of faith is headed for the courtroom.
On Jan. 26, U.S. District Judge John Shabaz rejected the VA’s motion to stay the legal action and instead set a trial date of June 29. Government lawyers had argued that litigation should pause until work on new guidelines for religious symbols on government-issued memorial markers can be completed.
Americans United sued the VA last year on behalf of Wiccan organizations and veterans’ widows. AU attorneys argue in Circle Sanctuary v. Nicholson that permitting some religious symbols to be displayed on government markers while refusing others is unconstitutional.
For many years now, Wiccans have sought the VA’s permission to use the pentacle – an encircled, intertwined five-pointed star – on headstones and markers.
“We’re pleased that the litigation will go forward, and the VA will not be able to delay further coming to the right decision and giving the families of veterans the memorials that they’re entitled to,” Richard B. Katskee, assistant legal director of Americans United, told the Associated Press.
South Carolina Council Drops Prayer, Adds Silence
A South Carolina county council has decided to dump its practice of opening its public meetings with sectarian prayers.
In early February, the Oconee County Council voted 4-1 to begin its sessions with a moment of silence and discontinue its longtime practice of offering prayers in Jesus’ name, The Greenville News reported.
The action came after the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State complained about the prayer practice. A powerful Religious Right organization, the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), also got involved in the conflict, urging the council to adopt a policy allowing ministers to pray before the meetings.
On Feb. 6, the date of the vote, the council meeting was opened with a local Baptist minister giving a prayer in Jesus’ name. Following his invocation, the Greenville newspaper reported, Roger Rollin, an Americans United member, stood and gave a secular invocation.
The council then went into a closed-door session to discuss the situation. The decision to spurn ADF’s policy and opt for a moment of silence did not set well with some in attendance.
“I pray for what has been unleashed on this county today,” Marly Ellenburg said during a public comment period. “I pray for God’s mercy.”