The American Civil Liberties Union is demanding that county officials in Franklin County stop the practice of offering invocations before meetings of the County Commission. The ACLU recently sent a letter to the Franklin County Commission urging the commissioners
to halt "sectarian" prayers or cease offering prayers altogether.
Anthony Rothert, legal director for the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, charged that Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer
has offered prayers that were "distinctly Christian," and thus is "utilizing County Commission meetings to advance his own religion." Rothert claims that the ACLU received a complaint about "repeated instances of sectarian prayer."
"We urge you to consider ceasing prayers altogether at commission meetings in order to allow all members of the community to feel equally welcome and represented," Rothert wrote. "If, however, you decide to maintain your practice of opening meetings with a prayer, we ask you to take steps to ensure that any
prayers are non-sectarian...and that they be led by someone who is neither a commissioner nor employee of the county."
The ACLU falsely claims, as is their common tactic, that prayers offered before government meetings are unconstitutional. In fact, in the only U.S. Supreme Court decision on the subject, the nation's highest court upheld the practice of public invocations. The High Court ruled in 1983 in the case of Marsh v. Chambers
that prayers offered before meetings of the Nebraska Legislature did not constitute "an establishment of religion."
The Supreme Court concluded that such prayers were constitutionally permissible so long as they were not used to proselytize listeners or to disparage any other faith or belief. The Court went further to say that the content of the prayers was not of concern to the judiciary, and that it was inappropriate for a court to "parse the content of a particular prayer."
In his opinion, then-Chief Justice Warren Burger pointed to the history of legislative invocations in the United States. "It can hardly be thought that, in the same week, members of the First Congress voted to appoint and pay a chaplain for each House and voted to approve the draft of the First Amendment for submission to the states, they intended the
Establishment Clause to forbid what they had just declared acceptable."
Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer says he has no desire to back down to the ACLU's demands. "I would just as soon fight them. I'd rather stand in front of a train and get run over if I believe I'm right."
It would appear that citizens in Franklin County strongly share Griesheimer's sentiments. An online poll taken by the Washington Missourian
showed that 77 percent of respondents supported the tradition of offering invocations before County Commission meetings.
While the County Commission reviews its options, commissioners have decided to hold a moment of silence before meetings of the Commission.
The latest shenanigans by the ACLU illustrate the importance of voter approval of the Religious Liberty Amendment which will be on the statewide ballot later this year. That proposed amendment to the Missouri Constitution includes specific language authorizing the governing bodies of political subdivisions to "extend to ministers, clergypersons, and other individuals the privilege to offer invocations or other prayers at meetings or sessions of...governing bodies."
The ACLU has failed in its initial efforts to strike down the ballot summary prepared by the Legislature for the Religious Liberty Amendment. Cole County Circuit
Judge Patricia Joyce ruled that the ballot summary that voters will review at the polls is both fair and sufficient. The ACLU is appealing that ruling. The proposed amendment will appear on the November general election ballot, unless Governor Jay Nixon decides to place it on the August primary election ballot.
In a related story, Missouri Congressman Todd Akin
has come under fire for offering prayers before meetings of a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee. Akin has come under fire from
Barry Lynn of the atheist group Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Lynn claims that "public prayers in public spaces by public officials" are unconstitutional.
Congressman Akin defends the practice. "We start Congress with a prayer, and I think it's a good idea to ask the Lord's blessing before our committee meetings as well. It gives us a sense of being respectful to each other."
Unfortunately for Lynn, the U.S. Supreme Court agrees with Akin. In the case of Lynch v. Donnelly
in 1984, the Court observed: "Our history is replete with official references to the value and invocation of Divine guidance in deliberations and pronouncements of the Founding Fathers and contemporary leaders...Those
government acknowledgements of religion serve...the legitimate secular purpose of solemnizing public occasions..."
Missouri's proposed Religious Liberty Amendment spells out the right of citizens as well as elected officials to pray on government premises and public property "so long as such prayers abide within the same parameters placed upon any other free speech under similar circumstances."
Please be praying for Franklin County officials that they will not yield to the ACLU's demand to censor the name of Jesus from prayers offered in the County Courthouse in Union, Missouri.