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Grayson County Reverses Decision on Spiritual Center


Original article available here

GRAYSON COUNTY, VA -- INDEPENDENCE, Va. (AP) - The Grayson County Board of Supervisors has relented and granted a permit for an interfaith retreat center, attorneys who filed a religious discrimination lawsuit said Wednesday.
The Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties organization, credited the reversal on the lawsuit it filed against the county after the board in June 2010 initially rejected the permit for The Oracle Institute. The proposed retreat, which embraces a multi-faith spirituality, was opposed at a hearing during the summer that included local ministers and their parishioners from this fundamentalist Christian county near the North Carolina line.
The board voted Tuesday night to allow the spiritual center to be built on privately owned land near the New River.
"This is a victory for religious freedom," John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, said in a statement. "The Oracle Institute has a right to be treated fairly and without discrimination in the same manner as other religious institutions."
Grayson County officials did not immediately respond to an Associated Press call for comment.
The retreat will include a spiritual education center called the "Peace Pentagon," a public library and 10 cabins for guests.
Town officials said after the initial permit denial that the request was denied on the basis of health and safety grounds.
Oracle's founder, Laura George, was a lawyer in Leesburg who decided to create the retreat after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"Our dream is to have ministers from all five of the primary religions here on alternating weeks," she told The Washington Post earlier this year.
Whitehead said the center will also offer recreational activities, such as camping and kayaking, and classes on environmental protection.
The board's vote will lead to a final settlement on the lawsuit, which accused the county of depriving Oracle and George of their rights to freedom of religion and free speech, Whitehead said.
A judge in April denied the county's motion to dismiss the lawsuit.


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