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July 31, 2004

Posted 1:016 AM Eastern

In 2001, Darla Kaye Wynne sued the Great Falls Town Council in South Carolina for invoking Jesus Christ and the Savior during meetings. Wynne practices Wicca, a neo-pagan, earth-centered religion. She said the prayers made her uncomfortable and were used to ostracize her from the community.

"I was being called a Satanist," Wynne said. "I've been threatened to be burned out." Incidents of vandalism have cost Ms. Wynne a great deal, so much to the extent that she cannot afford to move to a town friendlier to pagans. Many consider pagans nothing more than witches. "I'm not the only Wiccan who lives here," she said. "There is a good amount of pagans here who are horrified to be in public."

As a result of Ms. Wynne's lawsuit, a decision came down last week from a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. This decision could very well bring an end to any public figures invoking the name of Jesus in public prayers or at government meetings. Constitutional law scholars maintain this could end a civic tradition in the Southeast that's been adhered to since the nation's founding. This ruling sets a legally binding precedent to keep prayers neutral, but does face a possible appeal. Those affected would be all government bodies in all states which fall under the jurisdiction of the 4th Circuit, i.e. South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland.

Andrew Siegel, Assistant Professor of Law at the University of South Carolina School of Law said, "In practice, it means other councils should and will stop giving sectarian prayers." Siegel went on to state that any elected officials who challenge this ruling would most likely lose at enormous expense.

This ruling has caused a split among elected officials; some have vowed to challenge it, others support it. Great Falls Town Council plans to review the decision and whether or not they should appeal. Councilman Earl Taylor said the council would continue to pray, but would no longer mention or invoke Jesus' name.

Randy Scott, a Dorchester County Council Chairman said he would ignore the ruling. "I, for one, will never, ever, ever deny Jesus Christ in any shape or form," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, we will always say Jesus' name at the end of a prayer. The ruling is utterly ridiculous. If we have freedom of religion, does that not include Christianity? If I'm going to pray and I'm a Christian, I'm going to pray to Jesus."

Mark Tanenbaum who is Jewish and attends Sullivan's Island Town Council meetings said the decision is a step in the right direction. "I hope any municipality that uses any form of prayer will know that they have to respect the rights of everyone," he said. Barry Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU) said the 4th Circuit's ruling is a landmark decision. "It's a pretty significant case because it comes from such a conservative court," he said. "For this to get this far is certainly a good step for religious liberty."

Should the town council decide to mount an appeal, they have two avenues to pursue. The first is to request a hearing before the entire appeals court of 13 judges. Their second option and one considered a long shot is to go to the U.S. Supreme Court. This option is considered difficult by legal scholars in that circuit. The decision came as a shock to many as the 4th Circuit is generally regarded as the most conservative in the country. However, the three judges who made the ruling are considered quite liberal for that court. The chances of getting an appeal heard before the full court are considered slim.

Constitutional scholar Miranda DeWine, whose research for the past two decades has focused on the religious influence of the Founding Fathers and colonials, finds this decision just another one in a long line of an all out effort to completely eradicate Christianity in America. "It's simply mind boggling how individuals like Barry Lynne, the ACLU and the courts can continue their insupportable position that the Founding Fathers and those who signed the U.S. Constitution meant that all references to God and Christianity must be wiped off the face of America's governments."

Mrs. De Wine said Americans should do their own research on this issue so they can see how organizations like Barry Lynne's and the ACLU have deliberately misrepresented historical facts and provided the following references for this interview:

"James Madison, known as the father of the Constitution, said: "We have staked the future upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to sustain ourselves, according to the Ten Commandments of God." Patrick Henry: "It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians, not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ!" Benjamin Franklin Morris (1810-1867), American historian said, "These fundamental objects of the Constitution are in perfect harmony with the revealed objects of the Christian religion."

Alexander Hamilton who was a signatory of the U.S. Constitution, was also known as the "Ratifier of the Constitution," weighed in with, "In my opinion, the present constitution is the standard to which we are to cling....I now offer you the outline of the plan they have suggested. Let an association be formed to be denominated, The Christian Constitutional Society, its object to be first: The support of the Christian religion, second: The support of the United States." On July 4, 1821, John Quincy Adams, Sixth President of the United States, said: "The highest glory of the American Revolution was this; it connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity. From the day of the Declaration...they (the American people) were bound by the laws of God, which they all, and by the laws of the Gospel, which they nearly all, acknowledge as the rules of their conduct."

While the 4th Circuit judges have ruled that the name Jesus cannot be invoked or used during prayer, their position seems to contradict courts of the past:

"Our laws and institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise; and in this sense and to the extent our civilization and our institutions are emphatically Christian." United States Supreme Court 1892, Church of the Holy Trinity v United States.

With the ACLU and AU on a nationwide hunt for the Ten Commandments and numerous conflicting rulings by courts, many predict this battle will continue with the lawyers coming out on top financially.

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"I was being called a Satanist," Wynne said. "I've been threatened to be burned out." Incidents of vandalism have cost Ms. Wynne a great deal, so much to the extent that she cannot afford to move to a town friendlier to pagans.