At a time when city councils are getting sued (and losing) left and right over prayers that occur during their meetings, the Miami-Dade Commission in Florida has done something astonishing: They voted yesterday to get rid of their moment of silence and reinstitute a prayer:
On Tuesday, an intensive 18-month lobbying effort by the Christian Family Coalition paid off when commissioners voted 8-3 after lengthy debate to reinstitute prayer before public meetings for the first time since 2004.
Those prayers, according to the new ordinance, must be non-denominational and be offered before the meeting officially begins, with commissioners choosing the speaker ahead of time on a rotating basis. If a commissioner wishes, he or she may offer the prayer.
Anthony Verdugo, executive director of the Christian Family Coalition, praised the County Commission for “moving into the 21st century,” and said the vote ended “8½ years of discrimination.”
My jaw is on the floor.
To Verdugo, it’s anti-Christian discrimination to only have a moment of silence and not pay vocal homage to the Christian God (because we all know they’re not supporting Allah) at a government meeting.
The Pledge of Allegiance they say immediately after the moment-of-silence-turned-vocal-prayer doesn’t make a damn bit of difference to him, either.
The ACLU of Florida plans to see how “non-denominational” these prayers truly are (PDF) before filing any sort of lawsuit. But they’re watching very carefully:
“If prayers are sectarian in nature, the County will be sued; courts have reaffirmed that a sectarian prayer program affiliating the government with one faith is not permissible. That means that as soon as some prayer-giver says ‘Let us stand and bow our heads and pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior,’ which I presume is what proponents want, the Commission is likely to be sued.
“Even if the prayers are offered by a randomly chosen group of prayer-givers but the practice (in the words of a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling this past May) “conveys to a reasonable objective observer” the affiliation of the Commission or its endorsement of a particular religion — that will “violate the clear command of the Establishment Clause” and the Commission will be sued.
“If Commissioners censor the prayers or instruct a prayer-giver, so that the prayer is blandly ‘nonsectarian’ — the Commission could be sued for censorship of religious speech or establishing a ‘civic religion.’“If someone is excluded from being considered eligible to deliver an invocation to solemnize a Commission meeting (which is how the Ordinance describes its purpose) because they are not a leader of a religious congregation appearing in the telephone book, but a respected non-religious leader of our community, the Commission could be sued.
“This is a no-win situation — it is not merely that the Moment of Silence is respectful of the diversity of our community, a community with ‘a wide constellation of religious beliefs and non-beliefs,’ the Moment of Silence protects the Commission from legal liability.
There’s no word yet on whether any Humanists will get to deliver an invocation.
Here’s the difference between atheists and conservative Christians when it comes to government fights like this. Atheists fight for inclusion and equality; we don’t want any one belief about God to take precedence over all others, so we maintain that a good government is a secular government, where religion is a private matter. You will never see an atheist group push for a city council to say before any meeting that we are a “nation under no god.”
Conservative Christians fight only for themselves. They want prayer in government, non-Christians be damned. Their warped sense of history tells them this is a Christian Nation so they think it’s only right that their beliefs (and only their beliefs) get promoted at government events. They are simply unable to pray in private. They have to shout it out loud for the same reason they feel obligated to TYPE IN ALL CAPS online. They have no regard for anyone but themselves and they believe the more public their worship is, the more correct they must be.
Meanwhile, moderate Christians who know the Commission is wrong to include a formal prayer at meetings remain silent. They don’t want to stir the pot because they don’t want to piss off any Christians. It’s the coward’s way out.
Residents of Miami-Dade need to vote the eight commissioners who voted for this measure out of office the next chance they get. I guarantee they’re about to be on the hook for the thousands of dollars in legal fees their elected representatives just threw away because they wanted to inject religion into their meetings.
(Thanks to Holly for the link)