Why Woodbury County Supervisor Matthew Ung proposed the county board discuss with an outside law firm the board's practice of holding a moment of silence before its meetings last week became clear this week.
He wanted to hold a discussion about the moment of silence before meetings as background for a discussion he planned to open about public prayer before meetings.
Last week, Ung recommended the board meet with a representative of First Liberty Institute, a Texas-based law firm which describes itself as "the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to protecting religious liberty for all Americans," in closed session about the legal implications of holding a moment of silence before board meetings. Supervisors Jeremy Taylor, Keith Radig, Marty Pottebaum and Rocky De Witt voted against such a closed-door discussion, so Ung's proposal died.
On Tuesday, Ung proposed a resolution allowing - on a rotation basis - an individual board member to lead a public prayer in place of the moment of silence. The resolution failed, 4 to 1.
We do not criticize board dialogue about either a moment of silence or prayer. We do, however, find fault with Ung's proposal to talk about a moment of silence in closed session.
Under Iowa's open meetings law, a government body may hold a closed session "To discuss strategy with counsel in matters that are presently in litigation or where litigation is imminent where its disclosure would be likely to prejudice or disadvantage the position of the governmental body in that litigation."
Due to lack of existing litigation and no evidence to suggest "imminent" legal action against Woodbury County over the moment of silence observed by the county board before its meetings, sufficient reason did not exist for a closed discussion with an attorney from First Liberty, in our view.
In the end, board discussion about a moment of silence last week (and prayer this week) took place as it should have - in the sunshine of open, public discourse.
We give credit to Taylor, Radig, Pottebaum and De Witt for that.