For the love of God: Council President invocation policy challenged

Last week, Pensacola City Council President Brian Spencer announced a new policy regarding the invocations for council meetings.

Council members may choose to give the invocation themselves or choose a member of the community to do it.

Andrew Seidel, attorney for Freedom from Religion Foundation, has sent a letter to Spencer and asked that he reconsider the new policy because “it allows Council Members to prescribe the invocation to be given at each meeting instead of utilizing a neutral process that allows people of all belief and nonbelief systems to be selected.”

He wrote, “…we urge you to concentrate on civil matters and leave religion to the private conscience of each individual by ending the practice of hosting prayers at your meetings.”

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3 thoughts on “For the love of God: Council President invocation policy challenged

  1. I agree- a moment of silence or eliminate the show altogether. There is no reason to grandstand any religious dogma when the business of the people is being conducted.

  2. Really? A chaplain would allow everyone the equal opportunity to free exercise of religion in a government forum? NO! That’s just further restriction and censorship. Invocations MUST be ALL OR NONE. The 1st Amendment and Supreme Court make that clear. If you’d bother to read the letters sent or relevant quotes of the Galloway decision – without prejudice – you’d see that.
    The City’s previous ‘list’ system was legally flawed in that is still allowed someone (Council president or Ms Burnett) to choose who gets to pray. What’s more, most on the ‘list’ didn’t ask, but were sought out to participate. Almost all were Christian. What’s wrong with letting minorities who ask to participate (and who represent religions that have never been heard there) speak before those whom the council had to seek out for the privilege? And yes, the Satanic Temple – or any individual, including atheists – has just as much right to participate in government religious rituals as anyone else. Or do you want just believers to take part? Why could we (TSTWF) not bring our Chaplain? What about non-believers (20+% of our population)? Or non-church goers (40+%)? Is the prayer only for believers and church-goers? NO!. We are ALL citizens and should have equal access to government forums – just like Christmas nativity scenes on public property must allow other forms of religion equal space. That’s basic establishment clause stuff.
    The easy and legal solution is for government to get out of the divisive practice of prescribing and censoring prayer. There is zero evidence that God intervenes anyway. These prayers are done to show the piety of hypocrites elected officials (according to Jesus, Matthew 6:5-6). Legislative boards can have prayer (not the School Board or ECUA – they don’t pass laws). They just have to be open to all. That isn’t happening. ECSB and the BoCC refuse whomever they want. Like the City Council and ECUA, they have no written policy. And they won’t pass one because they want to keep their censorship privileges.
    Barring being open to all, an inclusive moment of silence is the best solution. It still honors those who want to pray (or not), but lets them do so according to their own conscience. Put another way (SCOTUS, 2014) “Our government is prohibited from prescribing prayers to be recited in our public institutions”
    At least get your facts right. I did not speak over Wingate – who should not have been offering prayer in his official capacity. However, one fella stood directly behind me and during my TSTWF invocation, ‘binding demons’ as I spoke. That was allowed. Wingate praying is a government endorsement/establishment thereof. And no, I claim not to give an invocation then (WTF?). I changed quietly to myself, as it my right. It seems you support the rights of some to pray, but not others whose religion you dismiss. That’s no more fair or legal than the Council Members, County Commissioners and School Board members who take it upon themselves to discriminate and censor which religions are allowed. Only they are doing it our of fear of an angry, bully electorate who came screaming to TSTWF’s invocation. Elected officials are afraid to consider a policy because they can’t do it fairly and without threats and retribution. They want to keep their office… instead of keeping their oath to the Constitution.

  3. The long-term solution to end this nonsense once and for all is for the City Council to propose a Charter Amendment providing for the creation of an Office of the City Council Chaplain. Voters would overwhelmingly support it. Had I been elected during last year’s election, I planned to propose such a Charter Amendment. The working model I had come up with reads as below:

    Section 4.05. Office of the City Council Chaplain.
    There shall be an Office of the City Council Chaplain modeled after the Florida Legislature’s Office of the Chaplain. The City Council shall adopt an ordinance not subject to veto establishing the Office of the City Council Chaplain. The term of appointment for a City Council Chaplain shall be one year. No person may serve more than one term of office as City Council Chaplain. For a person to be eligible for appointment to serve as a City Council Chaplain they must be an ordained member of the clergy of an organized church with its business office and place of worship within City limits and its worship services open to the public. No church may be represented by a City Council Chaplain for than once each twenty years except when no other churches have volunteered a person to serve as a City Council Chaplain. The City Council may direct the City Council Chaplain to implement a program for sponsoring guest invocations that shall be modeled to the greatest extent practicable after the Minister of the Day program in the Florida Legislature’s Office of the Chaplain.

    By my math, David Suhor has given three invocations in recent years, four if you count the time last July when he spoke over Councilman Gerald Wingate and later told the media that he had given an invocation. Council President Charles Bare did not do the City Council any favors when he scheduled Suhor to give an invocation in December 2016 “after” he had left the City Council. This was one of several cases when Bare decided to stick it to the City Council. Each time he told me about one of his petty schemes, I urged Bare to reconsider saying it was wrong and would backfire in his face.

    Under normal circumstances, neither the City Council nor the public might have found out what Bare had done until only 2-3 days before the invocation. As we all know, Suhor issued a self-righteous press release which led to all of the public angst and a dumb special meeting that only served to embarrass the City Council. As a resident of District 1, I was unhappy when my Councilman P.C. Wu later hid in the back of the room and only took his seat “after” Suhor had given his invocation. At least the others had the moral courage to sit through it or storm out in protest as did Wingate.

    After the July special meeting, I spoke with City Clerk Ericka Burnett in the parking lot. She told me that there were more than 100 names on a list of people who had never given an invocation and wanted to give one. I’m still shocked that Suhor was allowed to jump to the head of the line just because he threatened to sue the city. Let him sue. Burnett confirmed for me that there was no religious litmus test to give an invocation. For example, I asked her if someone from the plumber’s union could give an invocation. Burnett said that was permitted.

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