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Culpeper ministers may challenge town's suggestion on dropping 'Jesus' from prayers at meetings
Date published: 10/6/2004
"Once you start telling people what they should pray, you're taking their liberty out," he said. "A Christian should be offended [by this]. If they are not offended, they are not a Christian."
Attorney Mike Sharman called the town's position "prior restraint" and an expression of "hostility to Christianity." Although the 4th Circuit includes Virginia, he said none of the cases cited in the town's memo is applicable in the commonwealth.
"Nobody has ever ruled against what you are doing here right now," Sharman said. "[Religious freedoms] were won by inches. You're giving up miles."
Both Bendall and Rimeikis contend that the memo was merely a "suggestion." But it is written in the imperative: urging the ministers to "avoid references to Jesus, Christ" and "use neutral" references instead.
The Ministerial Association--and only volunteers from that Christian group--has customarily provided prayer at council meetings. Asked if a Satanist who volunteered would be allowed to pray at a council meeting, Rimeikis said he didn't know.
He also said he did not know what would happen if a Culpeper minister deliberately uses either "Jesus" or "Christ" to test the town's resolve.
One minister suggested that might be a possibility, asking, "Is this a point where we have to take a stand?" The association could make a decision on how it will respond as early as next month.
Randy Orndorff, who recently became pastor at Culpeper United Methodist Church, said the directive hit him in the face when he showed up to pray at a recent Town Council meeting.
"An attorney handed me [a memo concerning the Great Falls decision] and asked, 'Are you aware of this?' He told me I shouldn't use 'Jesus' in my prayer."
Being a new minister in town and getting hit with the memo just minutes prior to being called on to pray, Orndorff said he had to make a quick and unpleasant decision.
"I changed my prayer after they handed me the memo," he told the Ministerial Association. "I don't think I'd do that again."
To reach DONNIE JOHNSTON: DJohn40330@aol.com