ACLU Opposes State-Ordered Practice of Religion, Challenges West Virginia's Anti-Cohabitation Law

September 18, 2006 12:00 am

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CHARLESTON, WV – In a lawsuit filed today, the American Civil Liberties Union asked a court to overturn West Virginia’s prohibition on cohabitation by unmarried couples and challenged a parolee’s forced participation in a religious program.

The plaintiff in the case is William Stanley, an ex-offender whose release on parole was delayed for more than three months after officials said the cohabitation law barred him from living with his fiancée. When he finally was paroled, it was to a program that required daily participation in religious observances and memorization of religious materials.

“West Virginia’s law against cohabitation is an antiquated yet still potent affront to one of our most cherished rights-the right to be let alone,” said Andrew Schneider, Executive Director of the ACLU of West Virginia. “West Virginia’s law makes potential criminals of every unmarried couple sharing a residence. Until this archaic law is struck down, probationers and parolees will continue to be denied living arrangements that are otherwise acceptable.”

Stanley was granted parole in June 2005. After the proposed home plan was rejected because of the ban on cohabitation, it wasn’t until late October that he was released to the Union Mission in Fairmont, where he remained until January 2006. As a condition of being housed at the Mission, he had to attend religious classes and go to an approved church.

“Being forced by the government to practice a religion is the antithesis of what it means to be an American,” said Schneider. “The Framers saw government-compelled religious worship as a constitutional problem of the highest magnitude.”

The lawsuit, filed in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County, charges officials with violation of Stanley’s rights under the United States and West Virginia State Constitutions. The ACLU is asking the court to rule that the state’s cohabitation law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Article III of the West Virginia Constitution. The ACLU is also asking the court to award damages to Stanley.

ACLU cooperating attorney Georgia Lee Gates and ACLU of West Virginia legal director Terri S. Baur represent Stanley.

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