50-year-old tradition has county board reviewing its own policy - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Complaint about 50-year tradition has county board reviewing its own policy

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Barron County (WQOW)- A county board tradition has now become a controversy; one the board will be taking under consideration next month.  A group from Madison is considering filing a lawsuit against the Barron County Board.

The Barron County Board always opens its meetings the same way; with a prayer.

"There are many other counties that do have an invocation before their county board starts," explains Barron County Administrator Jeff French.  "It's been a long standing practice here in Barron County since 1958."

But the Freedom From Religion Foundation wants that tradition to stop.

"More than one person actually had complained about the Barron County prayer so we've had a number of people that have asked for our help with it," says Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott.

The county received a letter in July.

"Under the court precedence, courts have found that to be unconstitutional so we sent a letter informing the board of that and thought that the best way to resolve it would be to drop prayers altogether and that's what we asked," Elliott points out.

But instead of dropping the prayer, the county board decided to pray before the meeting officially began. 

"We were trying to be accommodative by not having it as part of our agenda, having it before the meeting started, they obviously took issue with that," remembers French.

So the group wrote another letter to the county.

"That is legally insignificant in terms of conducting the meeting that way with just the prayer occurring right before a gavel takes place and cited the court precedence that had found so and asked them to continue with dropping the prayers altogether and just going that one further step," Elliott says.

"This will be a county board decision," French explains.  "The executive committee directed me to put this on the agenda for the county board meeting and let the county board make the decision."

So far, no decision has been made on how to proceed.  The county's executive committee met this morning and says the full county board will take up the issue at its January meeting.

So far, no decision has been made on how to proceed.  The county's executive committee met Wednesday morning and says the full county board will take up the issue at its January meeting.

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