The Pompano Beach City Commission in Florida *really* doesn’t want to allow Satanists or atheists or Wiccans to deliver invocations at their meetings. But they know that’s a possibility if they say yes to religious invocations at all.
So yesterday, they voted 4-1 to adopt a ridiculous new policy on what qualifies as a religion:
The City Clerk shall compile and maintain a database (the “Congregations List”) of the religious congregations with an established presence in the local community of Pompano Beach.
a. The Congregations List shall be compiled by referencing the listing for “churches,” “congregations,” or other religious assemblies in the annual Yellow Pages phone book(s) published for the City of Pompano Beach, research from the Internet, and consultation with local chambers of commerce. All religious congregations with an established presence in the local community of Pompano Beach are eligible to be, and shall be, included in the Congregations List.
b. This policy is intended to be and shall be applied in a way that is all-inclusive of every diverse religious congregation within Pompano Beach. The Congregations List is compiled and used for purposes of logistics, efficiency and equal opportunity for all of the community’s religious leaders, who may themselves choose whether to respond to the Commission’s invitation and participate. Should a question arise as to the authenticity of a religious congregation, the City Clerk shall refer to criteria used by the Internal Revenue Service in its determination of those religious organizations that would legitimately qualify for Section 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.
In other words, you have to be publicly listed as a church in the Yellow Pages (which I’m sure people under the age of 87 have never used) and/or have non-profit status. It essentially shuts out citizens who aren’t members of a larger church, or whose organizations are not large enough to need a non-profit designation or public listing.
It seems unlikely that a group’s Meetup or Facebook page is enough for it to be considered a “legitimate” faith under these new rules.
The Sun-Sentinel newspaper explained as much in an article that’s behind a paywall:
But the church-state separation activist who asked to lead Pompano Beach’s opening prayer to Satan nearly two months ago says the new policy discriminates, which is against the latest U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
“It’s utterly ridiculous,” said Chaz Stevens, a self-described “minion of Satan,” who lives in Jupiter. “So if you haven’t met the IRS definition of a nonprofit, your God is less? Is that the new poll tax for God? What about Druids?”
“We now have eight pages cleverly crafted to conceal that this is exclusive, not inclusive and goes against what the Supreme Courts says,” he said. “Once again, the Druids take it in the shorts.”
I don’t always agree with Stevens, but he makes a valid point here.
He also added in an email to me:
This is a clear case of “freedom of religion, as long as it’s my religion.”
What’s next — to be a chosen one, you need to still subscribe to AOL?
Dear City of Pompano Beach, prepare for not only a fiasco, but a lawsuit.
This is a policy explicitly designed to exclude minority viewpoints. The ACLU of Florida has been alerted to the problem, so we’ll see if the group takes action.
(Image via Shutterstock)