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Hexed: Wiccan priestess loses in high court

The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected an appeal from a Wiccan priestess angry that while her county's leaders allowed other religious faiths to open their sessions with a prayer, she was not allowed to.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Supreme Court rejected an appeal on Tuesday from a 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 governmental meetings in Chesterfield County, Va., 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.

Won first round
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.

Simpson lost at the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which found that the county had changed its policy and directed clerics to avoid invoking the name of Jesus.

The Supreme Court is already hearing one religious case this fall. That case raises the question of whether federal agents can stop a church from using hallucinogenic tea in its religious services. But this case would have provided a better opportunity for the court and new Chief Justice John Roberts to deal with government and religion.

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

Discrimination alleged
The county “issues invitations to deliver prayers to all Christian, Muslim, and Jewish religious leaders in the country. It refuses to issue invitations to Native Americans, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Wiccans, or members of any other religion,” justices were told in her 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 did not proselytize, advance or disparage a particular religion.

The case is Simpson v. Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors, 05-195.

In other decisions Tuesday, the Supreme Court:

  • Agreed to hear a case over the federal , and in doing so it will venture into legal territory that it historically has avoided.
  • Rejected an appeal from a generic drug company over the patent for the antidepressant Zoloft, in a case that sought to speed up development of a cheaper substitute.
  • Refused to reinstate a class-action lawsuit that accused Merrill Lynch and one-time Wall Street darling Henry M. Blodget of misleading investors about Internet stocks.