Wisconsin County Defies Atheist Group Over Prayer at Government Meetings

By:  Dave Bohon
Wisconsin County Defies Atheist Group Over Prayer at Government Meetings

A Wisconsin county is defying the Freedom From Religion Foundation's attempt to stop its 50-plus year tradition of beginning government meetings with prayer.

Another county has decided to challenge the meddling of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), the secular busybodies who under the guise of “First Amendment watchdogs” make a living out of intruding into the affairs of communities, schools, churches, businesses — just about any group whose individual members exercise their constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religious expression. In this case it is Barron County in northwestern Wisconsin, where the county board has voted 27-0 to disregard the FFRF's threats of a lawsuit and continue its 50-plus year tradition of opening government meetings with prayer.

After receiving a letter from the FFRF last June warning that the board's custom since 1957 of beginning meetings with prayer is somehow illegal, the board moved to drop the prayer as a formal agenda item for government meetings, instead making the invocation, which is offered by local clergy, an unofficial act that preceded government business. Of course, that didn't work for the atheist group, whose lawyer complained in a followup letter that merely taking the prayer off the table and making it informal wasn't good enough.

In the letter FFRF attorney Patrick Elliott claimed that his group had heard from “Barron County residents who oppose the continued prayers before [County Board] meetings.” He offered a list of court cases in which judges have ruled against other municipalities that had included prayers in their meetings, or tried to hold them informally before the meetings. The atheist group's intent was clear: Prayers — particularly sectarian “Christian” prayers — must not be heard at the board meetings, just in case someone might assume the county was sanctioning such religious expression and become offended.

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