On June 20, 2017, West Virginia Day, WV Gov. Jim Justice signed a proclamation declaring Nov. 19-25 Christian Heritage Week. On November 1, 2017, Mayor Tom Joyce followed suit with a Mayoral Proclamation of the same, stating in part that “202 Mayors from 128 cities, towns and villages throughout the State of West Virginia have proclaimed Christian Heritage Week since 2001.” This constitutes a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on the part of the State of West Virginia and the second constitutional violation on the part of the City of Parkersburg.
The first violation by the City of Parkersburg is an ongoing constitutional violation. The City’s municipal prayer practice is in direct violation of a ruling from July 2017 by the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, as WV is in the jurisdiction of the 4th Circuit. The court ruled in Lund et al v. Rowan County, N.C. that prayer that is unique to one religion and lead by elected officials is unconstitutional. Parkersburg’s City Council leads the uniquely Christian Lord’s Prayer at the commencement of each and every meeting.
The Establishment Clause says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion …” These executive proclamations violate this constitutionally enshrined principle. The municipal prayer practice violates existing judicial precedent. The administration of Parkersburg has to ask itself a two-part question: Do we want to be a burned out burg falling prostrate in prayer as tax-exempt evangelical Protestant churches grow and spread and the rest of the area dies, or do we want shared growth and prosperity for all, regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof?