High court won't hear appeal from Wiccan priestess

By The Associated Press
10.11.05

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court today turned away an appeal from a Virginia Wiccan priestess angry that local leaders would not let her open their sessions with a prayer.

Instead, clergy from more traditional religions were invited to pray at government meetings in Chesterfield County, a suburb of Richmond.

Lawyers for Cynthia Simpson had told justices in a filing that most of the invocations are led by Christians. Simpson said she wanted to offer a generalized prayer to the "creator of the universe."

Wiccans consider themselves witches, pagans or neo-pagans, and say their religion is based on respect for the Earth, nature and the cycle of the seasons.

Simpson sued and initially won before a federal judge who said the county's policy was unconstitutional because it stated a preference for a set of religious beliefs.

The county appealed that ruling, and Simpson lost at the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The 4th Circuit found that the county had changed its policy and directed clergy to avoid invoking the name of Jesus. The Supreme Court turned away Simpson's appeal in Simpson v. Chesterfield Co. Board of Supervisors.

Simpson is a member of a group known as the Broom Riders Association.

The county "issues invitations to deliver prayers to all Christian, Muslim, and Jewish religious leaders in the county. It refuses to issue invitations to Native Americans, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Wiccans, or members of any other religion," justices were told in Simpson's appeal by American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Rebecca Glenberg.

The county's attorney, Steven Micas, said that the county's practice was in line with the Supreme Court's endorsement of legislative prayer as long as it does not proselytize, advance or disparage a particular religion.