Last year, Mayor John Rees, the leader of the Winter Garden City Commissioners (in Florida), kicked atheist Joseph Richardson out of a meeting after he refused to stand for the invocation and Pledge of Allegiance:
That protest (and the subsequent pushback against how the Commission handled it) led to the commissioners altering their invocation policy. Instead, they voted to have a moment of silence instead. Great!
… That is, until the following week, when they asked their lawyer for a do-over. For months now, they’ve been thinking about what to do. They even came up with a list of seven possible options (seen on p. 46 here), none of which, I might add, were “Eliminate the invocation and Pledge altogether.”
Last night, they pulled a Florida, voting 4-1 to bring back prayer:
“It’s 30 seconds,” Mayor John Rees said. “It’s not a sermon, it’s not a preaching.”
He said a prayerful opening was city tradition and the commissioners have usually prayed for guidance.
Commissioners said they would allow a diversity of voices to be heard during the invocation and invited Richardson, an atheist, to offer the first one under the new policy.
He said he was undecided about whether he would accept the offer.
It’s frustrating… but let’s face it: it’s legal, as long as they keep it diverse and open to anyone who wants to deliver it. I hope Richardson takes them up on the offer. And I hope he’s followed by Satanists, Pagans, and other non-Christians. It’ll be a blast giving Christians a taste of their own medicine.
It won’t be long before they’re wishing for that moment of silence again.
Incidentally, this is what Richardson (the atheist who started this whole controversy) said during yesterday’s meeting:
Mayor Rees and Commissioners,
I see a number of problems with these proposals. But I don’t want to spend any significant time picking them apart. I’ll just quickly mention a few issues as examples. Proposals 3, 4 and 5 allow for fire and police department chaplains to be included [as invocation speakers] which could be interpreted as a government official offering a prayer and therefore might be prohibited. None of the proposals specify how the city will verify that the religious diversity of speakers reflects the religious diversity of the city. Neither do they offer any estimates for the cost of city employees to administer these proposals.
But here’s the real question.
Why? Why do you want to bring invocations back? You made a perfectly reasonable decision, a decision that recognizes diversity, is completely inclusive, avoids divisiveness, and aligns with the values for which this nation stands. Do you really want to recognize diversity or do you just want to promote your chosen religion at the cost of participating in prayers from religions you reject?
You clearly recognize that the Town of Greece decision requires this accommodation. But do you understand how far it must extend? You and the citizens of Winter Garden must be prepared for invocations from Mormons, Buddhists, Scientologists, Pagans, Satanists, Christian Scientists, atheists, Humanists, Muslims, Jews, and anyone else who wishes to participate, regardless of their message.
When that happens, will you remain here in chambers and honor their prayers or will you walk out as has already happened at other commissions? Will you stand in respect for these invocations while the speaker prays to a god you don’t believe in, or worse, while they pray to a god you may believe is Satan in disguise? If you stand, will you bow your head while inside you feel like many others have, uncomfortable, awkward, unsure if you should even be here?
Remembering that in Matthew 10:33 Jesus says that in heaven and before God he will disown those who have disowned him here on earth. What will you do while these other prayers are offered? Remembering Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 6:5 against praying in public, I ask again, why do you [or these other speakers] want this? What makes you think that God hears a single, divinely forbidden public prayer rather than five or 100 divinely prescribed private ones?
Commissioner Buchanan expressed a very cogent sentiment in the commission meeting of [September 11] last year when he commented on why he voted for the moment of silence. He said:
“I personally didn’t want to have to sit through prayers that I didn’t believe in any more than I wanted anybody else to have to sit through prayers that… I chose to have. And by doing a moment of silence to use as you see fit[, it] covered everything.”
This is exactly the kind of respect and inclusiveness that all government officials should display when there’s any hint of inserting religion into government, not to mention that it’s a perfect example of Matthew 7:12, the Golden Rule, in action. I hope Commissioner Buchanan retains this very brave conviction and that the rest of the commissioners realize the wisdom of, and indeed, the Christ-like nature of this position. I urge you to reject all these proposals.
(Large portions of this article were posted earlier)