No More Government Prayers, ACLU Says

     ST. LOUIS (CN) – The ACLU asked a federal judge to ban the Franklin County Board of Commissioners from leading sectarian prayers at its meetings.
     The American Civil Liberties Union filed the complaint on behalf of a Jane Doe, who claims the board violated her first and 14th Amendment rights when she attended four meetings between Nov. 29 and Dec. 20, 2011.
     “At the commencement of each prayer, defendant [John] Griesheimer instructs persons attending the meetings to bow their heads,” the complaint states.
     “Persons in the room often respond to the prayers with a chorus of ‘amen.’
     “Persons in the room sometimes respond to parts of the prayers orally or by raising their arms toward the ceiling.
     “Although the agenda and minutes for these, and other, meetings reflect a ‘moment of silence,’ a commissioner offered a prayer instead.
     “Upon information and belief, defendants maintain their practices with respect to prayer without any written policy.”
     The ACLU says it wrote to the board in March and asked it to stop the prayers.
     “In addition, because the Franklin County Commission is a representative body of all of the residents of Franklin County – Christians, Jews, Muslim, nonbelievers, and others – the ACLU urged the commissioners to cease the practice of prayers at Franklin County Commission meetings altogether so that all members of the community will feel equally welcome and represented,” the complaint states.
     The ACLU says the board never responded, and it believes the prayers are still being said.
     “Plaintiff objects to and is offended by sectarian prayers at meetings of the
     Franklin County Commission because they endorse a particular religion and are an attempt by Franklin County and its officials to prefer one religious faith over others,” the complaint states.
     The ACLU wants the prayers declared unconstitutional and enjoined. Doe also seeks $1 in nominal damages. She is represented by Anthony Rothert, with the ACLU.

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