American history in all levels of government has countless examples of poor judgment by public officials. What is going on in Franklin County in the issue of beginning meetings with a prayer is now resting among the examples of poor judgment.
We don’t believe for a Missouri second that Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer was trying to promote a religion when he said a prayer before meetings. But when the constitutional stretch of establishment of a religion and liberty to express one’s self in the belief of a higher authority before a governmental meeting collide, there is only one winner, the Constitution, supported by many court rulings.
Since Griesheimer and the other two commissioners are under constant scrutiny due to rulings on other issues, the challenge to them is to use caution in every movement. Good intentions can be a misstep.
The prayer before meetings is appropriate and the practice is widespread by governmental bodies. But it must meet constitutional requirements and the commission, or perhaps just Griesheimer, should have been more careful in beginning a prayer practice. All Griesheimer had to do was check with other governmental bodies as to their prayer practices and follow their lead.
Of course, the self-proclaimed great champion of the Constitution, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said it received a complaint from a woman, who remains unidentified, that the commission, Griesheimer in particular, violated the Establishment Clause of the constitutions of both the U.S. and Missouri. Griesheimer said he would fight the ACLU, which would be costly, and in the end the county undoubtedly would not win.
Now the county has adopted a new prayer policy. The county will call on citizens to say a prayer to begin the public meetings as long as no religion is “promoted.” Citizens will have to apply in advance to say a prayer. Why go through this process? Why not adopt a prayer, or prayers, that meet constitutional standards?
Franklin County has received considerable publicity over this prayer issue, some sympathetic, some not so favorable. All of this could have been avoided with proper “management” of policy. Lacking has been prudent judgment.