Franklin County, MO
Wins Legal Battle
American Civil Liberties Union has abandoned their legal challenge to
invocations offered before meetings of the Franklin County
Commission. The lawsuit was dismissed on July 19th in the U.S.
District Court of Eastern Missouri.
had taken the Franklin County Commission to court last year, alleging
that prayers offered before meetings of the county's governing body
amounted to an establishment of religion. Lawyers for the ACLU
filed the suit after the County Commission refused their demand to cease
the practice of offering invocations.
had written a formal letter to the County Commission with an
ultimatum. Put an end to invocations altogether, or failing to do
so, limit the
practice to "non-sectarian" prayers. The goal of the ACLU, in
keeping with their anti-Christian legacy, was to quash any prayers
offered in the name of Jesus Christ.
was filed on behalf of an anonymous Franklin County citizen named Jane
Doe, who said that she was offended by the content of the Commission's
prayers. The ACLU decided to drop the lawsuit when U.S. District
Judge Stephen Limbaugh ruled that the County Commissioners had the legal
right to face their accuser, and that "Jane Doe" could not remain
ruled that it was not possible for the plaintiff to conceal her
identity, since the defendants would be unable to engage in discovery
with an invisible
party. "Jane Doe" had maintained that her anonymity was necessary
to prevent harassment and ridicule from others in the community.
concerns do not overcome the constitutionally-embedded presumption of
openness in judicial proceedings," Limbaugh wrote. "Plaintiff has
availed herself of the court system and in doing so, she has invited
public scrutiny of her claims...A hostile public reaction and the
prospect of embarrassment are insufficient to justify proceeding
this year, the ACLU had retreated from the heart of their lawsuit,
saying that they were no longer challenging future invocations of the
Commission. The ACLU decided to withdraw the major thrust of
their legal challenge following action by the County Commission
establishing a formal policy for invocations.
policy, developed with the assistance of the Alliance Defending Freedom,
invitations to offer invocations would be extended to ministers from
various denominations throughout Franklin County to offer the prayers on
a rotating basis. Invocations would be offered before the
official start of the meeting, and those in attendance would be advised
that they were under no obligation to participate.
ACLU chose to suspend their prospective legal challenge, they had
maintained the portion of their lawsuit challenging the prior invocation
practice of the County Commission. Under that procedure, Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer
offered the invocations himself. The ACLU contended that the
official presentation of prayer by an elected official constituted an
unconstitutional entanglement of government with religion. Now
that the entire lawsuit has been dismissed, the claim of
unconstitutional behavior against Griesheimer is moot.
invocation policy currently being followed by the Franklin County
Commission is consistent with religious free exercise provisions of
Missouri's Constitution. Under language approved by Missouri
voters last August in Amendment 2, the Missouri Legislature and local
government bodies "may extend to ministers, clergypersons, and other individuals the privilege to offer invocations or other prayers" at their meetings or sessions.
religious liberty language endorsed by Missouri voters also prohibits
discrimination against religious speech. It guarantees that
"elected officials...shall have the right to pray on government premises
and public property so long as such prayer abides within the same
parameters placed upon any other free speech under similar
knew that they were facing very formidable legal headwinds had they
continued to pursue their lawsuit. Federal courts have long
validated the practice of governmental invocations. In the landmark 1983 case of Marsh v. Chambers,
the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that such prayers were not a governmental
establishment of religion so long as such prayers were not used to
"proselytize" or denigrate other religious beliefs.
years, atheist legal advocates have contended that invocations are only
permissible when they are "non-sectarian," with their target the removal
of any references to Christianity. Yet most federal appeals
courts have ruled that "sectarian" prayers are constitutionally permissible. They have reaffirmed the precedent established in Marsh v. Chambers that it is not the business of the government to prescribe or regulate the content of prayers offered in public settings.
The Supreme Court will soon be hearing its first major case on the issue of invocations since the Marsh
decision. The case comes from the town of Greece, New York, where
the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the town's invocation
policy resulted in an unconstitutional "affiliation" with
Christianity. We will report more on this and other developments
on the religious free exercise front in coming weeks.
We once again commend and now congratulate Commissioner Griesheimer
and his colleagues for standing up to the intimidation tactics of the
ACLU. The decision of the Franklin County Commission to defend the right to pray in federal court is a huge victory for religious liberty in Missouri.
ACLU succeeded in silencing public prayer in Franklin County, they
assuredly would have gone after every county commission, city council,
and board of aldermen in the state, demanding that they abolish the use
of invocations to solemnize government proceedings. Ministers all
across Missouri who have graced public meetings would have been muzzled
as a result of a contorted interpretation of the First Amendment to the
outcome would have stood in stark contradiction to the overwhelming
sentiment of Missourians on this subject. Amendment 2 was approved
last August by Missouri voters by a thundering majority of 83 to 17 percent.
applaud the work of Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Brett Harvey and
local attorney Tim Belz, who provided expert legal assistance to
Franklin County in this case. Thanks in part to them, government
officials in Union, Missouri, and throughout our state, will still be
able to call out to the Governor of the Universe for his counsel in the
affairs of men.