Franklin County Commission meetings will once again begin with prayer beginning in August.
County commissioners unanimously passed an ordinance Tuesday morning establishing a policy for invocations at the beginning of commission meetings.
The policy was drafted in response to a complaint the county received from the American Civil Liberties Union in March.
The ACLU demanded the county stop the prayers, claiming they violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution as well as the Missouri Constitution.
County Counselor Mark Vincent said previously the policy should “withstand constitutional muster” on both the state and federal levels.
A copy of the invocation policy is available on emissourian.com.
The policy will require those wishing to give invocations to sign up for the upcoming month between the first and 15th of the current month.
With invocations set to begin in August, that means those wishing to give invocations will have to sign up to do so with the commission’s clerk from July 1-15.
“Whoever wants to get on that list can,” Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer said.
The policy forbids the commission from asking about the nature of an individual’s planned invocation, but also says those using it to promote a specific religion or demean another will be banned from giving future invocations. A two-minute time limit also is set by the policy.
In the meantime, commissioners are expected to continue to begin their meetings with the Pledge of Allegiance and a moment of silence.
After receiving the letter from the ACLU in March, commissioners halted the prayers, which typically were led by Griesheimer, and returned to observing a moment of silence.
Last month the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the county in federal court.
ACLU attorney Tony Rothert said even with the invocation policy in place, the lawsuit won’t be dropped or amended “if the result is that it continues to be only Christian prayer.”
Rothert told The Missourian previously that the ACLU would prefer the county not have a prayer at all and noted that it was inappropriate for a county employee or official to say the prayers.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of an anonymous female resident who Rothert said didn’t want to be identified out of fear of being harassed, says Griesheimer’s prayers have been sectarian and said asking audience members to bow their heads is a form of “coerced participation.”
Should the county lose the lawsuit, it could be on the hook for up to $200,000 in legal fees, Vincent said last week.
Those fees would be simply to pay the ACLU attorneys, he said, as the county will have no legal fees because of services volunteered from the conservative Alliance Defense Fund.
Vincent said the county’s invocation policy was previewed and modified by the Alliance Defense Fund.
Along with attorney fees, the anonymous plaintiff in the case is seeking $1 in damages.
Tuesday was the deadline for the county to file answers to the complaints filed by Rothert last month, according to the U.S. Courts electronic records system.
The case is currently before Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr., a former Missouri Supreme Court judge and Cape Girardeau County prosecuting attorney.