For a Better Commute. For a Better Prince William County.

Dumfries Changes Prayer Policy



DUMFRIES, Va. — Religion and the fear of litigation prompted Dumfries Mayor Gerald Foreman to lead three councilmembers into a backroom session that was described as illegal.

The Town Council unanimously voted on Tuesday to amend its invocation policy and adopted an ordinance that states a “moment of silent prayer and reflection” will be held prior to each council meeting. It changes a 2010 rule that barred anyone from evoking “Jesus Christ” or making “any recognizably Christian” references during meetings, though the terms god, providence, heaven, and creator have always been allowed.

Two Councilwomen, Dorothea Barr and Michele Jurgensen, did not follow the Mayor into closed session where the changes were discussed, after Town Attorney Christine Sanders said the lack of pending litigation on this issue made a closed session unwarranted under Virginia ‘s Freedom of Information laws.

Barr described the meeting as “illegal.”

“I don’t think my religion here matters…it matters to be, but it shouldn’t necessarily matter to you or how I perform this job,” she said.

Sanders eventually agreed to a closed session to discuss an email Councilwoman Kristen Forrester said had been sent by the American Civil Liberties Union. Forrester said the email – which was not made public — threatened litigation, but no lawsuit has been filed against the town on this issue, said Town Manager Daniel Taber.

“I would just again reference the email this week, sent by the ACLU, that if we head in any other direction than what they advised us to do, which was pretty clear in that email, than they will seek an injunction against us. It’s been threatened; I don’t know how this can be any clearer on the issue,” said Forrester.

Officials invited Woodbridge lawyer Doug Anderson to the closed meeting to discuss the town’s invocation policy. Anderson told the council he was working on a pro bono basis. Officials eventually emerged from closed session and passed the amended invocation policy.

A letter was sent to the town Monday from ACLU Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg — its entirety read into the public record at the Tuesday night meeting — that stated prayers must not reflect any one religion, and it reminded Dumfries leaders the ACLU recently won a federal injunction against Pittsylvania County, Va., where officials there were ordered to “cease its practice of explicitly Christian prayers before Board meetings.”

A letter from the Alliance Defense Fund, a non-profit legal organization, was also presented to the public Tuesday. That organization has offered to work with any government body whose prayer policies are being challenged, and stated local governments should not abandon invocations before public meetings.

Send news and photos to Potomac Local
  • plankbob

    ADF misleads by offering free legal help but doesn’t tell boards that they will be responsible for opponents’ legal fees when they lose a case.

  • DumfriesResident

    Fear?  Illegal Meetings?  This appears to be written by the News and Messenger Staff.  Potomac Local should be known for accurately reporting the facts.  I believe that the Town Attorney provided a Virginia Code to go into closed session.  According to Mayor Foreman’s website, this article is incorrect.  Entering into a closed session was deemed legal by the Town Attorney prior to the Council voting on whether to do so.  Check out Mayor Foreman’s account under the views tab:

    • We strive to report facts and I believe we’ve done that here. I reported the town attorney agreed to enter closed session on
      what was deemed to be a potential legal matter. I reported that town attorney
      advised against going into closed session, as well as that another council
      member believed the closed session action was in her own words “illegal.” Please
      tell me what facts were left out.

  • DumfriesCitizen

    Some  things never change in Dumfires, even with a new mayor. 

  • PastorMickey

    As a former Dumfries town council member I say shame on the current council. All around this great country of ours people such as the current council are not standing up for their rights and running in fear of the ACLU. It is time to learn that  the separation of state and church means that the government can not force one religion above another on it’s citizens (simplest explanation) and nothing else. A prayer is not forcing one religion over another on anyone.

A word from our sponsors...