Berea (KY) City Council Defends Illegal Invocation Plan Despite Member’s Warning January 24, 2020

Berea (KY) City Council Defends Illegal Invocation Plan Despite Member’s Warning

The last time we checked in with the Berea City Council in Kentucky, there was a huge kerfuffle over their invocation plans.

The council initially planned to hire a Baptist preacher — with taxpayer money — to deliver all future invocations after an atheist’s perfectly harmless speech infuriated local leaders.

Council member Emily LaDouceur (above) brought that to the public’s attention, and the plan was quickly modified… to eliminate the payments. That’s it. The pastor would still be delivering every invocation.

In other words, after they changed the illegal proposal, it was still 100% illegal.

After public outcry, the council decided to table the issue entirely while they looked into possible legal repercussions. It was a victory for church/state separation. At least temporarily.

There’s finally a major update to this story. It’s not a happy one.

In short, not long after all that went down, the city’s attorney told the committee they could not have a hired chaplain giving all the invocations. Good! That’s correct! LaDouceur also requested to join the Invocations Procedure Committee — the subgroup that discusses these issues internally before providing their recommendations to the full council — and she was added to it. (Also good!)

She got right down to work. At the next Invocations Committee meeting, she presented a fully-formed, attorney-vetted proposal for a moment of silence to open meetings instead. That would’ve solved all the problems. Getting the committee to support the proposal also would’ve made it all-but-certain that the full council would approve it too… but the two other committee members rejected the proposal.

LaDouceur pitched the idea to the full council anyway… but they voted it down. Only two of the eight members voted for silence. The rest wanted the Christian-only invocation policy.

That’s not an exaggeration. LaDouceur even said in a Facebook post that her colleague Cora Jane Wilson defended the invocations because she wanted to promote Christianity:

… when I asked why the invocations were started in the first place, Cora Jane Wilson stated, “because 7 of the council members at the time wanted prayer before meetings.” And when I responded, “specifically, Christian prayer,” she stated, “yes.”

Then came 2020. When the new year began, it was time to fill up the calendar with new invocation speakers. But the policy that’s currently in place says those speakers can only be selected from a list of pre-approved congregations in the area — basically congregations that appears in the Yellow Pages and newspapers — which means they’re almost entirely Christian. If you’re a believer without a building, or a non-Christian, you’re out of luck. As it stands, a letter from the city is sent to those pre-approved congregations, inviting them to have a representative speak at a future meeting, and if any of them respond, they’re added to the schedule.

LaDouceur, however, said she had about nine additional requests from people who weren’t members of a congregation. How would they be added to the list? Her colleagues didn’t want to include them, so LaDouceur went to the city clerk on her own… only to be handed different invitations that were to be returned to her personally, not the city.

This is a long way of saying that, at every turn, the non-Christians members of the city were receiving this “separate but equal” treatment.

LaDouceur tried one more time to resolve this issue peacefully. She called a special meeting of the Invocations Committee yesterday morning. But her colleagues (now three of them) didn’t show. They just ditched.

LaDouceur wondered: Why was she part of the committee at all when her colleagues were treating the whole thing as a farce?

Yesterday afternoon, she announced her resignation from the committee.

I have no interest in acting unilaterally and prefer the committee work in unison. However, they did not attend the public meeting of the committee upon which they sit.

So, I used this opportunity to listen to those citizens who took time from their schedules to attend. I shared with them email exchanges between myself, [council member] Jim Davis, and the city attorney (all public record). Then, I provided an explanation for why I find it necessary to resign from my seat on the invocations committee.

I believe that the elected leaders of this community should strive to work together for the betterment of our citizens. This cannot be done if our leaders decline to attend public meetings where they can listen to those they serve. At this juncture, I believe I’ve done all I can, as one council member, to ensure every citizen who desires such, to be included in our invocation process. I will no longer serve on this committee, a committee I believe is engaging in abject religious discrimination.

It’s sad that it had to come to this, but LaDouceur makes a fair point: Why waste your time when your colleagues don’t give a damn? You can’t create change when you’re outnumbered at every turn.

That last line could be ominous, though. LaDouceur is absolutely right that there’s religious discrimination afoot. And if any of those nine wannabe invocation speakers wants to sue the city, there’s enough of a paper trail now that a legal case would be fairly straightforward.

The city can eliminate the invocations or open them up to everybody. They haven’t said yes to either option. Which means they’re saying yes to a lawsuit that they will almost certainly lose. That’s despite the repeated warnings from LaDouceur, the only member of the council who seems to know how the law works.

(Image via Facebook)

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