Freethinkers at Virginia Tech (Free@VT), a group devoted to the separation of church and state, is stating its support for removing sectarian prayer from meetings of the Roanoke Board of Supervisors (Board). This statement comes after legal staff from the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter to the Board of Supervisors on the part of an anonymous, local complainant.
The Board holds sectarian, Christian prayers officiated by local clergy prior to their meetings. Government endorsement of sectarian prayer has been deemed unlawful due to Federal court precedent as well as the 1st and 14th Amendments to the Constitution. Due to its support of the separation of church and state, Free@VT is now stating their approval of the removal of the prayer. Free@VT is not against Board members holding or expressing religious views, nor are they opposed to religious leaders meeting with the Board to express the opinions of those clergy. Free@VT only requests that government officials do not endorse religious points of view in their capacity as government officials. It is the position of Free@VT that government officials should be in compliance with the law as it is presently interpreted by Federal courts.
“Government officials are free to be religious,” Beth Mutchler, Free@VT member stated. “They are free to pray on their own free time. Public meetings are not their own free time.”
For more information:
E-mail Dan Linford at firstname.lastname@example.org
Free@VT Website: http://www.freeatvt.org/
Dan is available for interviews.
In June, members of the Freethinkers at Virginia Tech visited Giles County to hear the School Board’s decision on whether to post the display, which included nine documents central to U.S. legal history together with the Ten Commandments. This was a revision of an earlier display taken down at threat of lawsuit. We expressed our opposition to its posting and our support for the continued separation of church and state.
Today we reaffirm this stance: The display in Narrows High School is unconstitutional. The display surrounds a millennia-old document drafted in the Middle East with documents written on this continent, within several centuries, that were directly inspirational to the legal framework of the United States. Surrounding the Ten Commandments with such documents serves only to confuse and cheapen both Mosaic scripture and U.S. heritage. Furthermore, as evidenced by the religious upheaval surrounding this case and the statements of many of the community members involved — particularly those of Reverend Shahn Wilburn, who donated the original display — the display’s original intent was to promote a specific religious viewpoint within Giles County public schools. Judging by the nature of the uproar following its removal, this intent has not changed.
We must protect every citizen’s right to religious freedom, regardless of beliefs or of lack of belief. There is no way for our government to protect this right while simultaneously promoting one religion over others. The posting of the Ten Commandments by public school administrators — in their official capacity — has the effect of promoting a Judeo-Christian worldview and undermines the rights — including the right to an unimpeded education — of those who do not share it. It is especially important that students are protected from such endorsements of religion by local, state, or federal authorities, because such endorsements encourage discrimination against those who dissent. This occurs despite the good intentions of these authorities.
The Freethinkers at Virginia Tech urge the community and the court to keep the facts of this case and the laws pertaining to them foremost, and not to allow the vocally overwhelming local opinion that church and state should converge to cloud the issue. While we are all entitled to our opinions and beliefs, it is imperative that we not permit a tyranny of the majority to suppress any minority, and that this nation’s founding principles be respected.
We say again: We stand with the Constitution, with the ACLU, with Doe 1 and Doe 2, and with every citizen of Giles County who does not want religion imposed upon them. We hope that this case is resolved in keeping with our national ideals and with minimum cost to everyone involved, especially emotional, financial, and educational costs to the students and families of Giles County.