The Brevard County Commissioners in Florida have adopted a new invocation policy that appears to be inclusive of non-Christian groups, but it may have to be tested to see if it actually works. What’s amazing is that they’re even bothering with this considering how many problems their previous invocation policy gave them. They could’ve gotten rid of the archaic practice. Instead, they’re attempting to inject religion into politics again and hoping it won’t blow up in their faces this time around.
Their previous attempt cost them nearly half a million dollars in penalties.
You can read all the details right here, but the story goes like this: The County previous limited invocations to “faith-based” groups only. The only time members of the Central Florida Freethought Community could speak was during the “Public Comments” portion of the evening. It had a very “separate-but-equal” vibe to it.
A coalition of lawyers representing church/state separation groups then sued the County on behalf of local atheists, and they won. The County appealed, and they lost yet again. Earlier this year, they were sent a bill for $490,000 (covered by the County’s insurance provider).
They could just drop the practice. It’s been three years since they’ve had any invocations and the sky has not fallen.
But last week, County Commissioner Curt Smith, the same fool who helped create this mess several years ago, said he wanted to bring them back.
Last night, there was a formal discussion about the topic. 10 citizens spoke in favor of the policy, including one Christian, Evie Ostrander, who brought Christian torture devices to hand out to people. (No one spoke out against the new policy.)
The County eventually adopted that invocation policy after being assured that it passes every legal test. But there is some concern about the wording:
[David] Williamson, a director of the Central Florida Freethought Community, said he remains concerned that the county’s new policy refers to “clergy” giving the invocation.
In addition to there not being clergy in non-theist organizations, Williamson noted that some faiths do not have clergy, citing the Baha’i faith as an example.
However, the board’s attorney said the invocation system — a first-come, first-serve policy that would allow anyone with a footprint in the County to deliver the invocation — would be inclusive.
“It is a very open system,” [County Attorney Eden] Bentley said.
Bentley told commissioners that “you certainly could see some unusual, unique and possibly even fringe organizations” qualifying for giving an invocation under the county’s new policy.
So the spirit of the new rule appears to be that any group would theoretically be allowed to speak. But that obviously opens the door to… everyone. And that could be a problem for some:
Another of [Commissioner Bryan] Lober’s fear was speakers gaming the system by saying they are a member of a fringe organization like the Cult of Cthulhu or the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and that they will “make a mockery of the invocation.”
“I pray that my concerns prove to be unfounded, and that we don’t come to regret this down the road,” Lober said.
Christians made a mockery of invocations a long time ago by trying to inject it into local politics. An atheist or Pastafarian participating in the process isn’t “gaming the system.” They’re literally following the rules set by the Commissioners.
In fact, the best thing that could happen now is for every “fringe” group in the area to request that opportunity. We need The Satanic Temple and other non-Christians jumping on this chance and making plans to apply to speak before Christians get around to it. If it’s first-come, first-serve, may a whole bunch of non-Christians start standing in line so that these Commissioners realize they would be better off saving prayers for their homes and churches.
The new policy was adopted 4-1, with Lober being the only person against it.
Let the games begin. It’s what the County wants.
(Image via Shutterstock. Large portions of this article were published earlier. Thanks to Brian for the link)