Just over a week ago, Joe Beck, founder of the Humanists of the Treasure Coast in Florida, asked if he could deliver the invocation at an upcoming meeting of the Martin County Board of County Commissioners.
It’s not just that they told him no that’s problematic. It’s the excuse they gave:
On December 3, 2013, a county administrator declined this request, informing Mr. Beck that invocations are “coordinated by the Martin County Ministerial Association; the County does not organize that function.”
In other words, the county doesn’t handle who gives invocations — a Christian ministry does. Forget the currently pending Supreme Court case; this is straight-up illegal.
The Supreme Court has made clear that the government cannot, consistent with the Establishment Clause, delegate its functions to a religious entity…
The same is true with regard to Martin County’s delegation to the Martin County Ministerial Association. This religious association has been vested by the County with the sole discretion of selecting speakers for the County’s own board meetings. Clearly, such delegation is inconsistent with Larkin and results in unconstitutional endorsement of, and entanglement with, religion.
But maybe all of this is okay because the ministerial association selects a diverse group of speakers, right? (HA! I didn’t believe that for a second, either…)
Martin County prayers are not offered by members of a variety of faiths, but instead, are offered by clergy selected from a religious entity vested with the ultimate power to exclude speakers from any faith it desires. In fact, a survey of the invocations delivered at the Martin County BCC meetings, which convene approximately twice a month, show a clear preference for Christianity as well as a complete lack of diversity… three Christian clergy members have delivered the vast majority of the prayers at the BCC meetings in the past two years (about 72%). No non-Christian faith has been represented at a single BCC meeting in the past two years.
What worries me is what happens if the county just lets Beck speak at an upcoming meeting. Is that it? Do they let a token non-Christian give an invocation so the Humanists shut up or do we have to rehash this fight in another couple of years?
The Board of County Commissioners should let Beck speak. But they need to go further and tell the ministerial association that their services are no longer needed. It’s the county’s responsibility to select the invocation speakers and if they can’t handle it in a fair, diverse, inclusive way, they should abandon the unnecessary tradition altogether.