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Judge: Pittsylvania prayer injunction will remain

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Local,Virginia

DANVILLE, Va. (AP) — A judge has denied the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors' request to dissolve or modify an injunction barring it from opening meetings with prayers associated with any one religion.

A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a New York case does not support dissolving the injunction in the Virginia case, U.S. District Judge Michael Urbanski said in an opinion filed Monday.

In May, the Supreme Court upheld the practice of reciting prayers at the start of the Greece Town Board's meetings in Greece, New York. The Pittsylvania County board cited the ruling in its June motion to dissolve or modify Urbanski's injunction.

Urbanksi said the Pittsylvania County case is different.

"First and foremost, unlike in Town of Greece, where invited clergy and laypersons offered the invocations, the Board members themselves led the prayers in Pittsylvania County," Urbanksi wrote.

In the Town of Greece case, the town government had no role in determining the content of opening prayers at its board meetings. The Pittsylvania County board dictated the content of prayers opening its meetings, the judge said.

"Further, because the Pittsylvania County Board members themselves served as prayer providers, persons of other faith traditions had no opportunity to offer invocations," Urbanski wrote.

Board members also directed citizens attending the meetings to participate in the prayers by asking them to stand, he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the board on behalf of Barbara Hudson in 2011. The lawsuit said the board's practice of opening meetings with Christian prayers violated the U.S. Constitution.

Urbanski issued the injunction in March 2013. He said in Monday's opinion that he is inclined to modify the injunction "to a very limited extent" to make it clear, consistent with the Town of Greece case, that opening prayers do not need to be generic or nonsectarian.

But he said he cannot alter the injunction while the board's appeal of it is pending before the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He said the parties could ask the appeals court for a limited remand to the district court to consider the motion.

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