The American Civil Liberties Union, which prides itself on making sure the government and the Church does not invade citizens' privacy, made the Pittsylvania County, Va. Board of Supervisors its latest target.
The ACLU is not interested in the latest zoning proposal or who will be the low bidder on the outstanding solid waste contract, but instead, what it is looking to see is what the prayer is like before the meeting.
It told the county board last week that a Christian prayer before its meetings is illegal and should be immediately discontinued. But protesters, standing on the courthouse steps before the board’s Tuesday meeting, say America is a Christian nation and, therefore, Christian prayers should be allowed at the beginning of the meeting's agenda.
Dr. Doug Barber, senior minister at Westover Baptist Church, started a petition so that those in the county who felt strongly about the commission's right to pray could show the board how they feel.
“In spite of the ACLU’s actions, the Christian community has decided to stand up for Jesus Christ," Barber told The Christian Post. "I was excited to see a few hundred Christians in this county come out in the pouring rain to support our commissioners. What upsets us is, it’s just one of those nit-picking, anti-Christian ways that liberals are using to speak out against Jesus and His church."
The sheriff's department estimated that around 1,200 showed up at Tuesday’s meeting.
The petition, with thousands of signatures, was given to the board, urging them to keep prayer on the agenda. But, to clarify the issue, it’s not prayer the ACLU is concerned with, it is Christian prayer.
In a letter to the board from the Virginia Chapter of the ACLU, Executive Director Kent Willis wrote, “Indeed, our nation was founded largely by Christians. But we are not a Christian nation. We are a nation that understands government must be neutral towards religion.”
In addition, the ACLU also cites numerous court rulings in recent years that specifically say that no one religion should be referenced during government meetings. In order to avoid any confusion or offending anyone, the group has asked the board to “eliminate the opening invocation from meetings.”
“I would like for the ACLU to just drop it, keep their mouths shut and keep on trucking down another road,” former County Board member Hank Davis told WSET.
Tim Barber (no relation to Doug Barber), chairman of the county board, said the body has opened its meetings with Christian prayer for well over two hundred years and the letter is not going to make them stop now.
“This body has been praying a Christian prayer since the founding of this county in 1767, even before this nation was founded, and we never have had one single complaint," said Commissioner Barber. “In fact, the ACLU refuses to tell us the name of the individual who is complaining. As far as I know, no one has ever complained.”
Commissioner Barber said the board still intends to pray before each meeting. “All we’re going to do is take the invocation off of the agenda, but all of our commissioners are going to pray before each meeting. If they want to sue us, that’s fine, we’ll be ready, but I think that will be a big waste of time and money.”
The board chairman also said they are meeting with state and federal legislators to see if they can remedy the situation through some type of legislative action.