During an open forum at a meeting of the Escambia County Board of County Commissioners (in Pensacola, Florida), David Suhor gave a wonderful speech against the use of religious invocations, legal or otherwise:
How would you feel, as Christians, if nearly every County Commission meeting started by turning to Mecca and asking the room to pray-along to Allah? That’s how some of us feel whenever we arrive here in time for the invocation.
Since the last time I offered a rare inclusive invocation two years ago, citizens have been subjected to 44 consecutive Christian prayers. All ended in a similar manner: “In Jesus’ name we pray.” That may sound fine to you, but to a constituent who doesn’t share your beliefs, it sounds like Escambia County favoring one particular religion. It’s un-American. At least half of us are not even church members, yet we’re asked to tolerate a regular dose of the Christian God when we participate in our local government.
Some of these prayers are rambling and irrelevant. Last June, a man spoke of a prophetic ending coming to Pensacola. Others have preached that we can all be saved by the blood of Jesus. Almost always, it’s “We pray,” as if in church. “We acknowledge you, o’ one male god,” “We pray your will is done.” That simply isn’t true, any more than “In God we all trust.”
We, the citizens, may or may not pray, to different gods, or to none at all, whenever we want. That is our right. Why must this assembly give time to exalt one faith, any faith, above others? I say it’s inherently divisive and it should stop — or at least change.
So please, I’m asking this board — out of respect for others’ beliefs — to make our county commission meetings neutral on matters of religion.
I refer you to the recent controversial Supreme Court decision in Galloway v Greece, NY. By a 5 to 4 vote, a body, like this one, is allowed to continue prayers, but it must welcome an invocation by anyone who wishes to give one, among other requirements. That doesn’t seem to be happening. I hope this council isn’t trying to “keep it Christian,” but the result is the same: This government’s business begins with a decidedly sectarian and intrinsically divisive religious ritual.
I’d like to offer two solutions and one consequence if we ignore this issue, but time won’t permit, so I’ll email my full comments to the board later.
In conclusion, let’s take a positive step to keep our government neutral and inclusive on questions of religion. You don’t begin church with a message from your favorite government representative. Why start government meetings with a word from your favorite spiritual sponsor?
Or mine, Goddess forbid.
Out of respect for all our citizens and for our Constitution, please consider ending or seriously revising this outdated and divisive way we begin our community meetings.
Some great ideas there… that I’m sure will be ignored by the Powers That Be.
David, by the way, gave a secular invocation at a meeting of the Pensacola City Council back in April.