Oracle's religious discrimination lawsuit delayed again

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The spiritual center is suing Grayson County and the board of supervisors for violating its constitutional rights.

By Landmark News Service


UPDATED 11/15/11:

Laura George of The Oracle Institute says an additional reason for the trail's delay is that the parties are close to reaching a settlement in the discrimination case.


INDEPENDENCE — The Oracle Institute’s religious discrimination lawsuit trial has been postponed again in Grayson County Circuit Court.
According to the Grayson Clerk of Court’s office, the trial, set for Nov. 16-17, has been postponed because someone involved with the case had a medical condition.
The trial originally was set for May, then moved to September. No new date has been scheduled for the trial.

The case has attracted regional and national attention, including articles and columns in such newspapers as The Roanoke Times, The Richmond Times-Dispatch and The Washington Post.

The suit alleges that the Grayson County Board of Supervisors violated Oracle Institute President Laura George’s rights to freedom of religion, freedom of speech and equal protection of the law in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and the U.S. and Virginia constitutions.

After considering motions made during a court hearing in October 2010, Judge Brett Geisler ultimately denied a motion by Grayson’s attorneys to dismiss the lawsuit, clearing the way for a two-day trial.

Geisler’s ruling “is a victory for religious freedom,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute in a press release. “The Oracle Institute has a right to be treated fairly and without discrimination and in the same manner as other religious institutions.”

In June 2010, the Grayson County Board of Supervisors denied a special use permit for The Oracle Institute, which planned to build a non-denominational spiritual retreat center in the Wilson District.
The board unanimously denied the request, citing a danger to the “health, welfare and safety” of county residents, and did not specify their reasoning for the decision beyond a brief discussion of an access road and parking.

George has said that county officials did not consider legitimate criteria for denying her special use permit to build the center, and instead listened to the protests of several church leaders in the community who opposed the plan. Dozens of them spoke out against George’s request at a June 2010 public hearing, citing differences in religious beliefs — which the supervisors could not consider in making their decision.
Later, the board voted to re-hear George’s request.

The Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties group, filed the suit on behalf of George, The Oracle Institute and Amethyst Acres, a limited liability company which owns the proposed spiritual retreat center site near New River.

The Oracle Institute says it is an educational charity dedicated to promoting spiritual enlightenment through study of the scriptures and the teachings of the world’s religions.