Last month, David Suhor (who calls himself an Agnostic Pagan Pantheist) spoke to the Escambia County School Board in Florida, saying that they were not very welcoming of non-religious viewpoints when it came to their opening invocations. He acknowledged that one board member invited him to deliver one (though he had a conflict on that date), but that was a rarity:
In response, one of the board members, Jeff Bergosh, took to his personal website to write about how he had no intention of letting non-religious people deliver invocations:
I mean, should the majority of persons in attendance at one of our meetings really have to listen to a satanic verse? What if a “Witch Doctor” comes to the podium with a full-on costume, chicken-feet, a voodoo doll and other associated over-the-top regalia? It could easily get out of hand, so far as I can tell….(I wonder what our local media would say about this?)
And I won’t stay and listen if someone tries to be disrespectful like that. I’ll leave the room and come back after, or wear BOSE noise cancelling headphones. Or I’ll turn around and raise my fist in the air like the ’68 Olympians did(uh, I’m being sarcastic-I wouldn’t really do that…)…… I won’t be part of someone’s prank.
So we have to be careful about how this issue is managed.
Locally, I’ve been bombarded by people offering their willingness to give invocations lately…. However, as a current practice each board member has the latitude to select whomever he/she wants to deliver the invocation before the meeting. In my eight years on the board, I’ve utilized a priest, two pastors, a youth pastor, the leader of my bible study group, several members of the district staff, a school community volunteer, and I’ve delivered the invocation on a number of occasions myself. I like having the flexibility of the board’s rotation system, and I’m not in favor of changing it…
Did you catch all that? He’s so into diversity, he invited a whole bunch of people… to pray to Jesus! Those other weird traditions have no place in a community like Escambia. (I’m sure they say the same about Christianity.)
Then, at the end of his post, Bergosh wrote that he *might* consider opening up his circle of invitees…
I’d even be willing to select someone other than a Christian to deliver the invocation. I’ve recently been contacted by someone of the Jewish faith, and I’m considering having that individual bring the invocation when it is next my turn, in January 2015.
Mr. Generous was expanding his base from Christians… to Christians and one Jew.
It got even worse. After Suhor emailed the board and requested a chance to give an invocation, Bergosh replied and told him what he would do if Suhor ever spoke at a future meeting:
[I] have an idea that I’ll be posting on my blog in the next few days that will allow everyone to win, a true win-win situation. When you come to bring your Wiccan, Atheist, or Klingon invocation — I’ll politely excuse myself from the room and simultaneously invite anyone in the audience who wants to join me in a Christian invocation out back. You can give your invocation to those that want to hear it and stay in the room. Nobody will prevent you from your free exercise of your religion, just as I would expect for you not to attempt to block me from exercising my constitutional right to my Christian belief via a Christian invocation outside the back door. A win-win, right Dave?
Since then, things have gotten no better.
The invocation policy still hasn’t changed. So Suhor doubled-down on his offer by saying on this site:
… the longer I am delayed, the more obscure I’ll make my prayer when they finally allow it. Right now they are Pagan-level cooperation. More rejection and delays and I’ll go to FSM. If they keep obstructing, I go Satanic.
Bergosh didn’t like that one bit.
Meanwhile, I’m cracking up. It’s such a legally-safe thing to say, even though it sounds like a veiled threat. If the school board wants to have invocation prayers, they can’t limit them to only religions they prefer. They can’t discriminate. Satanists can speak right alongside Christians.
Suhor spoke at a school board meeting on Thursday and made his case as to why the district was in the wrong here. He even suggested they move to a moment of silence instead, because at least that would be inclusive of everyone:
Yesterday, the school board met again to discuss the invocation protocol (among other things) and you can hear the discussion around the 1:30 mark in the video below. The district’s attorney, Donna Waters, looked into the matter and made her suggestions to the board:
In short, she states that the effects of Greece v. Galloway are still in flux and therefore the board can go ahead and continue with invocations if it wants… however, she warns there’s “some degree of risk of litigation.” They could avoid it by having a moment of silence or eliminating the invocation altogether (though she ignorantly says eliminating the invocation may be a church/state violation, too. It absolutely would not be).
Bergosh responds by mentioning his Token Jew giving an invocation, and therefore, he’s in the clear, right?! Even Waters had to push back on that.
Long story short, what you have here are a bunch of school board members doing anything they can to keep religious prayers in their meetings.
It won’t work. They can’t exclude beliefs they don’t like. And they have every intention of excluding beliefs they don’t like.
Near the end of the video, around the 9:45 mark, the board member who initially invited Suhor to speak (on a date on which he had a conflict) points out that Suhor is in the room, before adding, “he is no longer on my list.” She then turns to Suhor and says, “I’ll talk with you afterwards why.”
What did she say to him?
Suhor explained on his site:
After the meeting she said it was personal, not religious. Because I called her out for waffling and because of a social media post she heard about, she was afraid I would deliver Pastafarian or Satanic prayer instead of a Pagan one. That sounds like a religious issue, not a personal one. That was not my plan, but there is nothing wrong with those religions and it’s not their right to judge them. She said she couldn’t have the audience being “offended” by my prayer. That’s sad. She ALMOST understands how consistent majority-only prayer offends non-Christians there for a government meeting.
She’s asking for a lawsuit. She can’t just exclude Satanists and Pastafarians because she thinks they might offend the audience. This school board is more interested in playing martyr and wasting taxpayer money than it is getting down to work.
That’s why Suhor is still considering a lawsuit:
Suhor — who has led pagan invocations at other meetings and will deliver one at the Escambia County Commission’s next meeting — said he will talk with his attorney about pursuing litigation against the school board.
“I’m willing to go as far as I need to go,” Suhor said. “My big thing is you’re going to have to include everybody, or you’re going to have to end it.”
He’s not asking for much. He just wants non-Christian views to be treated the same as Christian views.
One way the board seems to be getting around him — and I haven’t been able to confirm this yet — is by quickly lining up their future invocation schedule with as many Christians (and that one Token Jew) as they can find. That way, when Suhor or anyone else asks for an invitation, they can tell them they’re all booked up in the foreseeable future.
It won’t stand. And the lawsuit will come. I have no clue why they’re being so stubborn against letting him (or other non-Judeo-Christians) speak, but it’s the students in the district who will end up suffering because of their irresponsibility.
(Thanks to Brian for the link. Portions of this article were posted earlier)