Attorney General Miyares Asked to Investigate Suffolk County School Board
Public Advocate President Eugene Delgaudio has written a letter requesting that the Attorney General investigate the Suffolk County School Board for its recent action to silence public comment in the form of prayer at a school board meeting.
"This protection of religious liberty is specifically forbidden in a Supreme Court ruling and spelled out in the Virginia Constitution," said Eugene Delgaudio.
In his September 19 letter to Attorney General Jason Miyares, Delgaudio writes:
Attorney General of Virginia
202 N. 9 th St.
Richmond, VA 23219
Dear General Miyares:
including the right of parents to exercise Free Speech and the Free Exercise rights with
respect to the education of their children. Public Advocate now asks you to intervene to
protect the constitutional rights of parents in Suffolk City against misguided school
board policies that threaten their rights.
local citizen Angela Kilgore as she spoke during a Board-approved public comment
period, cutting her off and prohibiting her from saying a prayer for the Board and the
students of Suffolk City public schools.
Specifically, when Ms. Kilgore announced at the end of her comments that she
was going to pray for the Board and the schools, Board Chairman Tyron Riddick
announced, "It's not permitted at this time." 1 "To pray for our schools is not permitted?"
citizen to pray would be unconstitutional. "This is not the place, per the law." 3 After
Riddick shut down Kilgore and announced that the Board would be in recess, a number
of citizens spontaneously stood and quietly recited the Lord's Prayer. In response,
Riddick ordered police officers to have the citizens removed from the room. 4 "Conduct
unbecoming will not be tolerated," he stated. 5
District, a government may not seek to "punish an individual for engaging in a personal
religious observance, based on a mistaken view that it has a duty to suppress religious
observances even as it allows comparable secular speech. The Constitution neither
mandates nor tolerates that kind of discrimination." 142 S. Ct. 2407, 2415 (2022).
3 Id. at 3:39:25.
4 Id. at 3:39:45.
5 Id. at 3:40:44.
as public prayers, for disfavored treatment. Id. at 2422.
the free exercise" of religion. U.S. CONST. Amdt. 1. Mr. Riddick incorrectly stated that
allowing Ms. Kilgore to pray "could be a violation of other persons' rights." 6 As the
Supreme Court recently held in Kennedy, "[a] government entity's concerns about
phantom constitutional violations do not justify actual violations of an individual's
First Amendment rights." Kennedy at 2415 (emphasis added). Indeed, such a position
would effectively silence all religious speech, as any speech professing the tenets of
one religion might hypothetically offend another. Suffolk's apparent policy, whether it
predated Mr. Riddick's impromptu actions or not, is clearly targeted directly at religious
Article I, § 16 of the Virginia Constitution likewise provides:
That religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner
of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by
force or violence; and, therefore, all men are equally entitled to the free
exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience.& No man
shall be & enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body
or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious
opinions or belief & and the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or
affect their civil capacities. And the General Assembly shall not
prescribe any religious test whatever&. [Emphasis added.]
Exercise of Religion is anathema to Virginia's constitutional structure and founding
6 Id. at 3:46:14.
indispensable to life in a free and diverse Republic." Kennedy at 2432-2433.
Accordingly, I respectfully request that your office makes clear that discrimination by the
Suffolk School Board to abridge the Free Exercise of Religion by its citizens violates the
United States and Virginia Constitutions and is prohibited.