Calling claims brought by an anonymous plaintiff “moot,” attorneys for the Franklin County Commission last week filed a response to a federal lawsuit asking the suit to be dismissed.
The lawsuit was filed last month by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of an anonymous female Franklin County resident, identified only as Jane Doe, claiming Christian prayers led by county commissioners violated the U.S. and Missouri constitutions, and the plaintiff’s rights.
The county’s answer denies most of the lawsuit’s claims, but does admit that Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer, who is being sued in both his official capacity as a commissioner as well as individually, offered prayers at some meetings prior to March 21, when the county received a complaint from the ACLU.
Last month commissioners adopted a formal invocation policy which will allow for any member of the public to deliver prayers at the start of commission meetings if they sign up about a month in advance.
While the lawsuit cites specific examples and dates upon which Griesheimer delivered Christian prayers, the defense stated only that he “opened various meetings of the Franklin County Commission with prayer” prior to March 21.
Tony Rothert, ACLU of Eastern Missouri legal director and attorney for the plaintiff, told The Missourian previously that he had obtained audio recordings of the prayers, but did not say how the recordings were made available.
The county does not record audio or video of commission meetings nor does it take verbatim minutes.
One of the major claims of the lawsuit is that Griesheimer’s prayers violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution because “they prefer one religion over others,” “they have no secular purpose” and “they have the effect of affiliating Franklin County with one specific faith or belief.”
The county’s answer denies almost all of the plaintiff’s claims, but offers little explanation.
The county also denied claims that the prayers violate the Missouri Constitution, which prohibits giving preference to a church, sect or creed of religion and compelling residents to support a system of worship.
Attorneys for Franklin County are claiming that the plaintiff’s complaints are barred by a variety of legal immunities as well as the 11th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which grants sovereign immunity to states and therefore makes them immune to being sued in federal court.
The county is being represented by attorneys from the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative group with ties to a number of Christian organizations.