The Berea City Council in Kentucky still can’t seem to figure out how to handle invocations, and every change they make is the wrong one.
Last August, for example, they planned to hire a Baptist preacher — with taxpayer money — to deliver all future invocations after an atheist’s perfectly harmless speech infuriated local leaders. When Council member Emily LaDouceur (below) brought that to the public’s attention, the plan was quickly modified… to eliminate the payments. That’s it. The pastor would still be delivering every invocation.
Then they decided to table the issue entirely while they looked into possible legal repercussions — a temporary victory! But even though LaDouceur suggested a moment of silence that would’ve passed all legal muster, other members of the council voted it down because they explicitly wanted to promote Christianity. (They said that.)
The plan they finally adopted allowed members of the public to give invocations… with caveats. Only speakers on a pre-approved list would be considered, and that list consisted of congregations that were in the Yellow Pages and newspapers — meaning it was almost entirely Christian. (If you were a believer without a building, or a non-Christian, you were pretty much out of luck.)
There was a threat of a lawsuit at that time. And then the pandemic happened. And the council said it would re-consider the issue at a later date.
At this point, can they really fail much more?
The answer is yes.
This week, while having a special meeting via video-conference (where public comments weren’t an option), the council adopted a different policy that limited invocations to… members of the council. The mostly Christian members of the council. They will rotate, with each council member getting the opportunity to give that opening prayer.
The final vote for this plan was 5-3, though one of the “no” votes came from David Rowlette only because he wanted to go back to the plan that allowed pastors to decide who gives invocations.
The sad thing is that they can get away with this. The Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a similar practice in 2017, and their jurisdiction includes Kentucky.
If there’s any silver lining here, it’s that LaDouceur says she’ll use her invocations to deliver a message from a group that wouldn’t otherwise be considered by this city, including the non-religious.
… If you had an invocation prepared and were excluded from the invocation process, or would like to prepare one, I respectfully request to share your invocation (with or without attribution, at your preference). I recognize this is NOT the same as having our community represented and included in-person, but it is my best response to this council’s decision to exclude on the basis of religion…
Leaders should not impede a community’s desire for unity in diversity, religious or otherwise. We are stronger when we hold space for each of our unique lived experiences.
She’s doing the right thing. The majority of her colleagues refuse to join her because they think city council meetings are temporary church services. It’s a complete abdication of duty and another way in which the Christian Right, whenever it obtains power, forces itself on citizens.
All the more reason for Satanists and atheists and Muslims to send LaDouceur their invocation speeches. If this new policy is the way forward, the least we can do is make those Christians very, very uncomfortable. No less uncomfortable than they make everyone else by speaking favorably about a religion that condemns non-believers to eternal damnation.
(Image via Facebook)