On Tuesday, December 13, 2011, the Grayson County Board of Supervisors conducted a third and final public hearing on the zoning permit for the Peace Pentagon, The Oracle Institute’s proposed interfaith and social justice center in Independence, Virginia. The hearing was part of a multi-staged settlement that had been worked out in advance between Oracle’s attorneys and the County.
Thus, after asserting generic concern for the “public health, safety, and welfare” and anxiety over the “viewshed of the New River” (where, ironically, the Board once sought to build a prison), the Supervisors reconsidered and granted Oracle’s permit. It took 18 months, but it was worth the wait. An important lesson was learned by all, including myself: Our Constitution is in jeopardy and we had better protect it at every available opportunity … or else.
Grayson County had never before faced such a Constitutional crisis. Religious Freedom – although guaranteed under the First Amendment and explicitly embraced by Oracle in its formal Mission Statement (Thomas Jefferson’s Act for Religious Freedom) – was a locally untested principle. No wonder, then, that the Supervisors were unprepared for this challenge.
In fact, Grayson County is home only to Christian churches, and most of them are Evangelical.
By definition, fundamentalist fervor is the core tenet of this sect of Christianity, which holds that there is one – and only one – path to God. Everyone else be damned (literally). As a result, some Evangelicals will abandon Religious Freedom and the Right to Free Speech if it means “others” are the ones silenced.
Thus, one should not be surprised that the Supervisors, themselves, were overwhelmed by the intolerance of the Evangelicals who opposed Oracle’s multi-religious mission. Indeed, the Supervisors, themselves, were threatened by one of the speakers at the original permit hearing.
Therefore, on behalf of Oracle, I thank the Supervisors for their courage in the face of heretofore unprecedented religious tension in Grayson County. I also thank the residents of this County who understood the profound principles at stake and offered me personal support. As many know, this was the second time I felt obligated to commence legal proceedings against the County in order to help preserve it. As a co-plaintiff in the prison lawsuit, I also am thankful that the prison was not built on the New River – the most precious asset of this County.
In closing, I feel it is important to disclose the financial toll paid to preserve Religious Freedom in Grayson County. Why? So the same mistake is never made again. Taxpayers and County insurance will foot the bills of three law firms and one legal foundation: (i) Sands Anderson, PC (County counsel); (ii) Guynn, Memmer, & Dillon, PC (County counsel); (iii) Law Office of John Barry Donohue, Jr. (Oracle counsel); and (iv) The Rutherford Institute (Oracle counsel).
And in case you’re wondering: The Oracle Institute did not ask for nor receive one penny in this settlement.