Barron, Wisconsin — Government officials in a Wisconsin county have voted unanimously to continue with prayers at their monthly county board meetings despite threats from a national atheist organization to file a lawsuit over the matter.
According to reports, citizens throughout Barron County recently turned out to the January board meeting to express their overwhelming support for the prayers, including pastors from nine churches in the area.
“[It is disturbing that] a certain fringe group can seek to dictate its will to a majority of people in the county by use of intimidation,” said Pastor Wayne Hall of Abundant Life Church in Cameron.
“Just because someone might feel offended doesn’t mean that a constitutional violation has taken place,” added Greg Becker, assistant pastor of Zion Lutheran in Turtle Lake.
“A good majority of us wish for you to seek divine wisdom in carrying out your responsibilities and to keep prayer on your agenda,” chimed in retired Pastor John Erickson.
The comment period, which lasted approximately one hour, was filled with back-to-back comments from clergy and residents who respectfully but adamantly urged the Barron County Board not to back down in the face of atheist demands. County officials had received a letter last year from the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) threatening a lawsuit if they did not discontinue presenting the prayers. In turn, the county moved the invocation to the start of each meeting, but FFRF said that it was not good enough.
During the January board meeting, citizens asserted that prayer has always been an integral part of American society, including in the government. Pastor Steve Miller of Christ Lutheran Church of Pike Lake explained that Benjamin Franklin asked that prayers be presented every morning during the Constitutional Convention in July 1787. Likewise, Pastor Tylan Dalrymple of Christ Lutheran Church in Chetek and St. John’s Lutheran Church in Cameron outlined that George Washington, who was known as “the man on his knees,” was characterized by his life of prayer.
Local resident Wayne Ryback of Chetek spoke of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, whom he quoted as once stating, “The church is the conscience of the state.” Peter Wilson of Turtle Lake pointed to the consequences of prayer being removed from the nation’s public schools, remarking, “And today, our children are shooting each other.”
The Chronotype reports that not one person who spoke favored removing the prayers from the meetings, and a hearty “amen” could often be heard in the audience.
Following the public comment period, the board discussed among themselves whether they should continue with the practice of opening each meeting with prayer, which has been a tradition since 1957. Supervisor Jim Reul asked Chair Jess Miller what he believed could be the legal ramifications of the matter, and Miller replied by pointing to a similar situation in Dodge County where the government prevailed against atheist demands.
Therefore, upon taking a vote, the Barron County Board unanimously decided 27 to zero to continue with its monthly prayers. The decision was made with the agreement of county attorney John Muench.