A witch argues that she should be invited, along with assorted priests, ministers, and a rabbi, to give the opening prayer for the meetings of the Chesterfield County Virginia, Board of Supervisors. The Board, wisely, said, no. And, natch, two “civil liberties” groups filed a federal lawsuit, claiming discrimination on the basis of religion.These are very confused litigants, who think that prayers to the god of earth and worms and seasons and whatever strikes one’s fancy is actually part of a religion. One of the confused ones is Barry Lynn, director of the D.C.-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who has invoked (surprise!) the First Amendment. Today’s Washington Post article notes that Lynn’s lawsuit complains about the establishment of a “national” religion by Chesterfield County.
Let’s look at the part of this pesky First Amendment that deals with religion:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
Well, let’s start with the question, “what law?” The Board of Supervisors apparently operates out of local custom and sensibilities; there does not appear to be any law that mandates this. Next, because someone who worships trees or whatever is not invited to provide the convocation of a government function hardly means that they have been prohibited from the “free exercise thereof.” Their right to worship is unimpaired; a privilege, i.e. the honor of offering prayer at an important gathering, has been denied.
A libertarian must allow people, even those we know to be wrong, the freedom to quietly practice their religion (ok, we’ll draw the line at human sacrifice). But we must never lose sight of the fact that the Board of Supervisors, also individuals and people, have the right to not honor beliefs which they do not share and which in fact may be offensive to their core beliefs.