Last month, I posted about how the Keller City Council in Texas had invocation prayers at meetings. That alone isn’t a problem since the Supreme Court already ruled on its legality. That’s also why, last year, my friend Zach Moore of the Keller Humanists requested to deliver one of those invocations. Mayor Mark Matthews initially said no to him, but eventually relented at the request of the pastor who coordinated the speakers.
There was just one caveat: Moore could speak… but only if he was followed by a Christian speaker.
In other words, they weren’t going to have a meeting without a Christian prayer. It’s like they were saying, “You can say whatever you want… but we’re going to make sure a Christian has the last word.”
It happened as recently as August:
The Freedom From Religion Foundation eventually sent a letter to Mayor Mathews explaining why this was illegal:
A nonbeliever who gives the opening invocation must not be treated as a second-class citizen by having his or her message openly undermined by a Christian pastor who represents the Council.
Last month, when Moore was scheduled to speak again, Pastor John Salvesen was also scheduled to clean up his supposed mess. But instead of allowing one or both of them to speak, Mayor Mathews ended up refusing to let either man at the podium. Maybe he just wanted to avoid any legal problems, but he made things even worse when he recited an explicitly Christian prayer from the bench instead. That’s undoubtedly illegal — it’s government promotion of Christianity — so a better solution was still needed.
The Keller City Council members think they’ve finally figured out that solution.
They’re going to have two invocations at every meeting… and one of them will be a prayer that atheists will presumably not be allowed to deliver.
They seriously think that’s okay.
Even Christian legal group Liberty Institute thinks this is a dumb idea.
Ken Klukowski, director of strategic affairs at the Plano-based Liberty Institute, said allowing two invocations sets what could be a dangerous precedent. The institute says its mission “is to defend and restore religious liberty across America.”
“In an effort to be inclusive, Keller has stepped outside the safe harbor of court protection,” Klukowski said. “If you’re doing two to be more inclusive, three is more inclusive than two, and four is more inclusive than three.”
“There is no historical pedigree of that, that I know of,” he said, adding that whenever the Supreme Court has addressed invocations, it specifically protects a singular invocation per meeting.
Klukowski said he hopes the city will “seek competent legal counsel” before potentially opening itself up to a lawsuit.
But the city is standing by the decision:
City Manager Mark Hafner said that after receiving the letter, the city attorney reviewed the invocation practice and believes the that new practice will “dispel that discrimination allegation.” The city doesn’t have a written policy on invocations.
“While Mr. Moore is welcome here to give his invocation, council felt it’d be best, not knowing if it’s a prayer or not,” to have two invocations, Hafner said.
Unless atheists are also allowed to deliver that second invocation, the city will still face the same problem as before: They’re using government time to promote religion and atheists are not permitted to participate in that ritual. It’s irrelevant that they’ll get to participate in the first invocation. More likely than not, both invocations will always be Christian prayers.
FFRF attorney Sam Grover is appalled by the strange “fix”:
Grover said he hasn’t heard back from the city. He also said he’s never heard of a government body having two invocations, and “frankly, this whole practice sounds ridiculous.”
“From the start, invocations are unnecessary; they are divisive rather than having the city get down to business,” Grover said. “The whole thing is frankly inappropriate, and to double it with two invocations is obviously meant to allow the humanists’ message to be diluted by religious messages, and I think that’s shameful.”
No word yet on whether FFRF will file a lawsuit. But that’s where this is headed if the city officials don’t get their act together.
(Portions of this article were publisher earlier)