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W.Va. AG asks Supreme Court to tackle legislative prayer

By EVAN BEVINS

The Parkersburg News and Sentinel

PARKERSBURG, W.Va.  — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and his counterparts from 22 other states last week asked the U.S. Supreme Court to protect the practice of lawmaker-led prayer at public meetings, something that could have an impact on Parkersburg City Council.

Morrisey announced the coalition of attorneys general filed a brief last week asking the high court to hear arguments and confirm the constitutionality of the practice. A decision earlier this year by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found almost exclusively Christian prayers led by Rowan County, N.C., commissioners at their meetings violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

“Protecting the continued practice of lawmaker-led prayer impacts not only North Carolina, but also West Virginia and every state within the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ jurisdiction,” the release says.

The recitation of the Lord’s prayer before the start of Parkersburg City Council meetings has come under criticism again in recent months. City Attorney Joe Santer said that while the local practice is not impacted by the 4th Circuit decision because it takes place prior to the actual meeting, a ruling from the Supreme Court would have “a great impact on City Council.”

“I think I would like to see them take it up, because then you’d have a decision that would resolve” various cases where courts have come to different conclusions, Santer said.

Parkersburg resident Daryl Cobranchi said last month he believed the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia or the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation would file suit against the city over the use of the Lord’s Prayer.

Patrick Elliott, a staff attorney with the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said Tuesday that legal action against the city is “something we’re still considering action on.”

Cobranchi said he would rather the Supreme Court not hear an appeal of the district court’s decision.

“I don’t see any reason for the Supreme Court to hear it,” Cobranchi said. “As far as I know, everybody agrees that government can’t lead prayer.”

Cobranchi stepped down in October as Wood County Democratic Executive Committee chairman after being accused by Parkersburg City Councilman Eric Barber of engaging in “anti-Christian rhetoric.” Cobranchi denied that but said he did not want his presence to hurt the party.

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