Only days after receiving word of a lawsuit filed in federal court, Franklin County officials and citizens are denying claims that the county adopted a practice of having residents lead sectarian prayers during county commission meetings.
The lawsuit was filed Friday, May 18, in U.S. District Court in St. Louis by an anonymous woman who alleges the county commission’s policy of beginning meetings with a prayer is a violation of her constitutional rights.
The woman is being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.
In the suit, the plaintiff claims that upon receiving notice from the ACLU about the unconstitutional nature of the county-sponsored prayers, commissioners instead had James Goggan and Eric Reichert, two Franklin County citizens, lead prayers during the public comment portion of the meetings.
Reichert said he was absolutely not asked by any county official to say a prayer.
Goggan, general manager of The Good News Voice Radio, a Christian radio station broadcast in Washington on KGNV 89.9, declined to comment.
Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer said the claim in the suit was a lie.
“Both citizens started their prayers in defiance of the ACLU warning letter we got in March,” Griesheimer said. “They weren’t solicited at all.
“We didn’t stop them because, at the time, we had an open comment period where you could comment on anything, whether it was on the agenda or not,” he said.
Griesheimer would not go into a lot of detail about the lawsuit, but said the commission had a closed session scheduled for Friday morning to discuss the pending litigation.
The lawsuit says the commission is sponsoring sectarian prayers at meetings “through both their actions or inactions.”
A copy of the 11-page court filing is available by clicking on the PDF in this story under "Related Documents."
Griesheimer said the warning letter in March and lawsuit filed last week took commissioners by surprise.
No one has ever spoken to members of the commission during or after meetings, in public or private, about being offended by the prayers, he said.
Griesheimer said previously he wanted to fight the ACLU’s claims but was hesitant about using taxpayer money.
Wednesday he told The Missourian that the county still may have to do so, but said donations from the public might keep the county’s costs to a minimum.