ST. LOUIS – The ACLU of Missouri has filed a lawsuit against the city of Wentzville for violating a person’s freedom of speech when she was removed from a public board of aldermen meeting by order of the mayor after she raised concerns about a recently installed “In God We Trust” sign on the front of the City Council’s dais.
“The right to disagree with public officials without retribution is at the heart of a thriving democracy,” said Tony Rothert, ACLU of Missouri Legal Director. “Just because a public official does not like what someone says about his decision give him the right to intimidate someone or censor constitutionally protected speech.”
In February, Sally Hunt was approved to speak for five minutes during the open forum portion of the Wentzville Board of Alderman’s meeting. In her request for permission to speak, she noted she would discuss “In God We Trust” – referring to a recent decision by the mayor and board to install an approximately 16-foot sign that says “In God We Trust” on the dais in Wentzville City Hall without a public vote.
At the meeting, Hunt questioned the city’s decision to install the sign, which she believed would alienate or intimidate some residents of Wentzville. Mayor Nick Guccione interrupted her at four minutes and 35 seconds into her allotted five-minute public comment, then argued with her about her comments.
When Hunt disagreed with him, the mayor said she would be removed from the meeting. Hunt then left the podium and returned to her seat, where she was immediately approached by two uniformed law enforcement officers.
While the next person addressed the mayor and board uninterrupted, the police officers threatened to forcibly remove her from the meeting. After that next person was finished, Hunt then went up to the empty podium—flanked by the officers—and asked the mayor why she was being removed from the meeting.
One of the police officers reached in front of Hunt, grabbed her, spun her around and grabbed her arm, directing her down the aisle as they escorted her from the meeting. In the foyer, the officers told Hunt she had to leave the building entirely on orders from the mayor.
At the conclusion of the “open forum,” the mayor took several minutes to address the crowd about Hunt. He stated among other things that he blocked her on Facebook because she does not live in Wentzville and, in his opinion, does not have a voice in the community.