January 2019 Church & State - January 2019

Missouri Town Settles Case Brought By Woman Over Religious Slogan

  Rob Boston

A Missouri woman who sued local officials in Wentzville last year after being forcibly removed from a government meeting due to a dispute over a religious sign has reached an out-of-court settlement.

Sally Hunt attended a meeting of the Wentzville Board Of Aldermen in February to express her opposition to a recent move by the board to post a large “In God We Trust” sign in a public space. Hunt was speaking during an open-comment period when May­or Nick Guccione began to argue with her. He cut her off before Hunt’s time was up and ordered two police officers to remove her from the room, even though by then she had stopped talking and was sitting down.

Hunt, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, sued, asserting that her First Amendment rights had been violated.

Under the terms of a settlement announced in November, the city has agreed to adopt new policies to ensure that people have the right to speak during public meetings, reported the St. Louis Riverfront Times.

The board also approved a resolution reaffirming its commitment to freedom of speech and church-state separation. In addition, the community will train police to remind them that citizens have the legal right to speak. The board will also pay Hunt’s legal fees.

“The police will be trained only to interfere if there is probable cause someone has committed a crime, not just because the mayor says so,” Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri, said.

Hunt welcomed the settlement in a statement.

“I am pleased that no one else will be forcefully removed from a public meeting when they speak up about the government’s apparent endorsement of religion,” Hunt said. “No one should face retaliation because they shared their opinion in a public forum.”

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