This is the APPLE Biter Blog, commentary and news on local religion and secular government.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


For the 2nd month in a row, the ECSB did not have a formal invocation 'prayer' tonight.  They didn't ask anyone to stand or pray!!  Though they won't say as much, this may signal a softening in their stance on biased invocation prayers.  If so, it's about time they came to their senses.

Last month was Mrs. Hightower's turn.  She read a poem (while the audience stood).  Tonight it was Mr Slayton's turn.  Instead of someone from East Brent Baptist Church praying (as is his custom), he asked a student to give a speech about the Future Farmers.  She was poised and it was totally appropriate.  No one stood or prayed aloud.

The real test is January.  That's when Mr Bergosh - the most vocal opponent of non-Biblical prayer-givers - gets his turn at choosing the invocation.  He has promised to bring a Jewish person, essentially saying you want diversity... here's your diversity.  Sorry, but inviting a Jew (like Jesus), while asking me "Are you Christian?" (then refusing my offer and several other minorities') is not diversity.  Likewise, passing over requests from Humanist and atheists and seeking out someone to represent a religion you like is not Constitutional.  You've publicly said you only allow prayer-givers that reflect your beliefs, which means you exclude those who don't.  I hope you have the good sense to continue the inclusive example set by Mrs Hightower and Mr Slayton.  I'm sure you can find an inclusive way to start the meeting that doesn't involve asking the audience to pray for you.  Maybe feature a student essay or some poetry.  It could be part of Civics or English class contest.  If you can not, I'll be there with an 'offensive' alternative invocation to offer at the Public Forum.

BTW, I had a dynamite "Christmas-themed" invocation prepared for the Public Forum.  Darn!  I'll give a different one next month, if needed.

One question remains:  Why call it an 'Invocation' on the agenda if gods' blessings are not invoked?  Why not just have the Call to Order and start the meeting?  There is no requirement to (misleadingly) list an 'Invocation', much less let individual SB members censor who gives it.

Stay tuned.

PS  I offered to drop this whole issue and not gloat to the press if the ECSB would change their policy.  They did not let me know.  I cannot assume they changed their policy at all.  I can only assume that two members made wise choices.  I'll be contacting the press with an update this week.

Monday, December 15, 2014

"Satanic" Invocations - @ECSB, Legal But Unwelcome

I don't claim to be a Satanist.  Satan is a creation of the Bible, which I reject due to its poor provenance and general pathos... I mean really, human blood sacrifice?  What awful BS.  Unfortunately, the ignorant have accused me of offering "Satanic" invocations.  Pagans does not equal Satanist.  Even what you think is Satanic is not.

In fact, I believe that - in a country espousing freedom of religion - a Satanist's views are just as worthy of hearing at a government meeting as any other prayer.  That's what freedom of speech and the non-establishment clause mean.  That's why Orange County Schools can't allow Bibles to be distributed while refusing other religious literature.  While I would not deliver one of these during the time for ACTUAL invocation time, I would definitely offer it during the Public Forum - especially at the ECSB, where they have refused my offers of a Pagan prayer actually fitting my deeply held beliefs.  They only allow Bible-based prayer.  Given that fact, a Satanist prayer must be proper.

So, here (BELOW) are some Satanist invocations.  None of them violates the Supreme Court's warning (in Galloway v Greece) not to denigrate other religions, proselytize or speak to issues before local boards.  Look for them at the ECSB Public Forum, where I was invited to deliver prayers of whatever kind I want.

“HAIL SATAN!  Let us stand now, unbowed and unfettered by arcane doctrines born of fearful minds in darkened times. Let us embrace the Luciferian impulse to eat of the Tree of Knowledge and dissipate our blissful and comforting delusions of old. Let us demand that individuals be judged for their concrete actions, not their fealty to arbitrary social norms and illusory categorizations. Let us reason our solutions with agnosticism in all things, holding fast only to that which is demonstrably true. Let us stand firm against any and all arbitrary authority that threatens the personal sovereignty of One or All. That which will not bend must break, and that which can be destroyed by truth should never be spared its demise. It is Done. Hail Satan.”


Hail, Satan,
Lord of Darkness,
King of Hell,
Ruler of the Earth,
God of this World!

God Who invites us to become as gods!
Muse of our civilization,
Dread Enemy of its tyrant god!
Satan, mighty Liberator,
Bearer of true Light!

God of our flesh,
God of our minds,
God of our innermost Will!

O mighty Lord Satan,
teach us to become strong and wise!
Teach us to vanquish the enemies
of our freedom and well-being!


In Nomine Dei Nostri Satanas, Luciferi Excelsi.

In the Name of Satan, Ruler of the Earth, True God, Almighty and Ineffable, Who hast created man to reflect in Thine own image and likeness, I invite the Forces of Darkness to bestow their infernal power upon me. Open the Gates of Hell to come forth to greet me as your Brother/Sister and friend.

Deliver me O Mighty Satan from all past error and delusion, fill me with truth, wisdom and understanding, keep me strong in my faith and service, that I may abide always in Thee with Praise, Honor and Glory be given Thee forever and ever.

Hail Satan!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Why Do I Not Just Pray-Along?

Comments on first two shots are by ECSB member Jeff Bergosh.

Some have asked, why don't I just pray along or leave the room when local councils ask everyone to pray.  They say it's disrespectful.  For me, respect for all belevers must be given equally.  Otherwise, you cannot expect it back.  The ECSB respect ANY non-Biblical prayers.  They only allow Christians an endorsed platform - and maybe a Jew someday "for diversity".

So I choose to pray in my own way.  If I chant, it drowns out the prayer I don't agree with.  Just as ECSB membver Bergosh and BOCC rep Robertson walked out when I appeared, I can make a statement of passive resistance.  I don't have to listen to your illegal, discriminatory prayers.  I can pray in my own way.  Whether plugging my ears, turning away, kneeling on a prayer rug or singing to myself, it is my right to pray according to conscience when you ask the room to pray according to yours.  I encourage others to do the same.

Since most local reps have their eyes closed (literally and figuratively), they don't see that several people in the audience don't pray along.  For those others who don't let their government lead them in prayer, I choose to stand (and pray and sing and kneel) against our government establishing one religion - any religion.

Friday, December 12, 2014

VIDEO: Joe Wade Rants Against Me & BOCC

I LOVE this guy! He makes me look brilliant. Here he rants about my Pagan invocation. His personal attacks indicate the weakness (lack) of his legal argument. Basically, he can't argue freedom of religion or separation of church and state, so he resorts to crazed stories, a personal attack, and subtle allusions to violence. It's a shame. I'd love to hear a cogent argument in favor of government-sponsored prayer and against Constitutional protections there-against. He has none.  If he did, I'd pick him apart like a pack of pickled peppers.

VIDEO: BOCC 'Invocation Pledge" Public Forum Comments 12.11.14


I changed the wording a little bit from what I intended to say (see previous post).

The PLEDGE ITSELF is in my previous post also.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

BOCC Public Forum Comments, PLEDGE TO SIGN!!

There seems to be some confusion about the invocation prayer before each meeting.  Commissioner Robertson walked out before my recent invocation, saying this: “People may not realize it, but when we invite someone, a minister, to pray, they are praying for the county commissioners, for us to make wise decisions... and I’m just not going to have a pagan or satanic minister pray for me.”  I'm not sure why my gods are labeled satanic, but they deserve invocation just as much as yours.

Let's clear the confusion.  In a recent decision, the Supreme Court suggests a "prayer that is solemn and respectful in tone" and "invites lawmakers to reflect upon shared ideals <sic> before they embark on the fractious business of governing".  Unfortunately, leading the room in prayer is INHERENTLY fractious, as we do not all share the same belief.  Your policy does not help.

What policy?  None has been published.  We only know that each commissioner chooses whomever he wants to hear pray and may reject offers from those he doesn't.  Those rejections are commonplace.  I have the emails to prove it.
As a result, some Christian speakers pray here over and over - one 6 times in the last year, another 10 times in two years - while some minority believers are denied any opportunity, are ignored, or are generally stonewalled by MOST commissioners.

For months, I've been asking for a remedy in the form of a written and inclusive invocation policy.  Influenced by the Supreme court ruling in May, attorneys have suggested a fair system.  There has been no response.  So today, I'm proposing a small step forward:  I'm asking each commissioner to sign a simple pledge.  You may read it yourself.  Basically, I'm asking you to bring the invocation practice within the law by promising:

- not to discriminate in choosing speakers,
- to ask speakers not to denigrate other religions, proselytize or speak to issues before the board,
- not to repeat prayer-givers while requests to speak are pending,
- to welcome all offers and speakers equally,
- not to show favor among religions,
- to remain in the room for all prayers,
- OR (absent these actions), to invoke an inclusive moment of silence instead
IN SHORT, I'm asking that you treat others as you'd wish to be treated if you practiced a minority religion and wished to invoke its positive influence upon this body.

I pray that ALL our commissioners will sign AND HONOR this pledge, for the good of our County.  Absent that, I pray you'll publish your own welcoming invocation policy, thus protecting our County from the fractious legal challenges your current practice invites.

Thank you and I look forward to your response.


Whereas, the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution declares that our government "shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech",

Whereas, the US Supreme Court ruled in Galloway v Greece NY that sectarian invocations are allowed at local government meetings, as long "its leaders maintained that a minister or layperson of any persuasion, including an atheist, could give the invocation."

Whereas, the Escambia Board of County Commissioners welcomes all citizens to its meetings and wishes all to feel they may be heard and respected, regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof,

I,______________________ (name), County Commissioner for District ___ (number), wishing to represent all my constituents equally and inclusively, regardless of their religious convictions, do hereby pledge:

1) not to discriminate in any way in choosing who may offer an invocation or prayer before the County Commission.

2) to ask demand that each prayer giver not "denigrate, proselytize, or betray an impermissible government purpose", as required by the Galloway v Greece decision.

3) not to allow repetition of any speaker or congregation until all who have offered to deliver an invocation have been offered a chance to do so.

4) to welcome all offers and speakers equally, setting aside my own religious preference out of respect for every American's right of individual religious liberty, and

5) not to favor any religious tradition over others, remaining in attendance for all invocations, and respecting all traditions, treating each speaker as equal in the government arena.

If, for any reason, I am unable to choose a prayer giver meeting my pledge, I promise, instead, to invoke an inclusive moment of silent prayer and reflection, thereby welcoming all our citizens equally and asking none to pray against their beliefs.

I make this pledge freely and willingly, as an example that I treat citizens of all faiths (and none at all) equally and without prejudice, just as I would want to be treated when addressing my government.

Agreed and pledged this ________  day of _______________, in the year  ________.
Signature:  ________________________________________

Monday, December 8, 2014

Letter to ECSB - What is Needed, What's Next, What is the Solution?

For your information, PLEASE READ THE NEWS BELOW about another school board currently being sued for it's prayer policy.
Here's the link:

December 8, 2014

Board Members, et al,

As ever, I encourage you to reconsider your exclusive and illegal prayer policy.  The ECSB should not waste taxpayer dollars defending a sectarian stand that pushes ANY religious practice on those attending ECSB meetings.  With so much confusion over this, it behooves you to issue a WRITTEN POLICY (at the very least) clarifying your prayer practice.  Who may lead the room in prayer and who may not?  Who makes these decisions and on what basis?  What content is appropriate?  No one will say.  Yet offers from minorities get rejected while SB members solicit Bible-believers to offer prayers befitting their own faith.

What's more, you have failed to respond to letters from FFRF and AU.  Your constituents have no idea how you justify establishing Bible-based prayer - while excluding all others.  This all contradicts your own system-wide policy (no school-led prayer, but an inclusive moment of silence), as stated in the Student Handbook.  Even under Galloway v Greece (which does not apply to school boards), your style of individual privilege and board-endorsed discrimination is indefensible.  It certainly does not comport with more stringent legal precedents regarding school-system-sponsored prayer.

PLEASE NOTE:  For reconciliation's sake, I am willing to drop this matter altogether - without notifying the press - if you will continue the inclusive moment of silence Mrs Hightower led at the last meeting.  Otherwise, I will accept your previous offer and present a WIDE DIVERSITY of prayers (not just my own) EVERY MONTH during the Public Forum.  I have invocation prayers from many traditions: Muslim, Pastafarian, atheist, Scientologist, Satanist, Astrologist, Hindu, Pantheist and everything in between.

Likewise, I'll continue praying audibly (according to my own beliefs) during the time set aside for such activity.  As you know, it is every American's right to freely exercise their religion up until the OFFICIAL start of business.  Oddly, the Invocation occurs BEFORE the Call to Order... though at the behest of the board president.  It's still unclear why you start the meeting this way - once unofficially (and after 5:30) for the Invocation and again, officially, after the Call to Order.  However, until the meeting is actually called to order, it is my right to pray aloud  - just as students may pray aloud before the official beginning of the school day.

That's all for now.  I don't expect it, but I welcome your response by email or phone.

Best Regards,
David Suhor
850 512-2220

FFRF Sues Praying School Board

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a prominent national state/church watchdog, filed a federal lawsuit yesterday in the Central District of California, Eastern Division, against the Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education, whose meetings "resemble a church service more than a school board meeting," FFRF contends.
FFRF, based in Madison, Wis., has more than 21,500 nonreligious members nationwide, including more than 3,360 in Caifornia.
School board meetings open with a prayer, and often include bible readings and proselytizing by board members. Board President James Na injects Christianity into many of his official statements, FFRF's legal complaint notes. At one typical meeting, Na "urged everyone who does not know Jesus Christ to go and find Him," after which another board member closed with a reading of Psalm 143.
Students often attend the meetings to receive awards, speak about issues affecting their schools, attend disciplinary hearings and do performances. Student attendance is mandatory in some instances, and a student representative is a member of the board.
Courts have consistently held that organized prayer in the public schools is unconstitutional, the complaint charges. Two federal appellate courts, the Third and Sixth Circuits, have specifically held school board prayer unconstitutional.
Joining the Freedom From Religion Foundation as plaintiffs are a district student, Doe 1, and parents Does 2 and 3, as well as a district employee, Doe 4. Additional students, families, and employees in the district who are interested in joining as anonymous plaintiffs should contact FFRF.
The plaintiffs "feel that the government is taking sides against them on religious questions," and view the prayers, bible readings, and proselytizing as state-endorsed religion. The board is excessively entangled with religion, alleges the complaint, noting there is no secular or educational purpose for prayers, bible readings, or proselytizing. FFRF contends this violates the Establishment Clause, the Equal Protection Clause, and the California Constitution.
FFRF repeatedly attempted to resolve these constitutional violations without litigation. FFRF originally contacted the board on Sept. 14, 2013, asking it to stop scheduling prayers at its meetings. The board responded on Oct. 7, 2013, refusing the request.
FFRF is represented by Attorney David J.P. Kaloyanides, who won a lawsuit in February on behalf of the American Humanist Association, which stopped the city of Lake Elsinore, Calif., from building a war memorial depicting a soldier kneeling before a Christian cross. FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert and Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel are co-counsel on the case.
The complaint asks the court to declare the board's religious practices unconstitutional under both the federal and state constitutions and to permanently enjoin the board from any further school-sponsored religious exercises. 
U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal, an Obama appointee, is handling the case (Case No. 5:14-cv-02336).
- See more at:

Sunday, December 7, 2014

EMAIL: ECSB's Bergosh Responds to (Rejects) Humanist Invocation Offer

Once again, Bergosh cites personal privilege and the beliefs of the board as justification for excluding religions from equal treatment at a government function.  Apparently, he needs some better legal advice.  He might also re-read the 1st amendment regarding establishing a religion and prohibiting the free exercise thereof.  Or he could just refer to the ECSD's own policy of not allowing prayer (except an inclusive individual moment of silence) at school functions where students are present.

From: Jeffrey Bergosh <>
To: Andre Ryland
Sent: Tuesday, October 7, 2014 9:43 AM
Subject: Re: ECSB Invocations


Thanks for your honest reply.  I answer your question with a couple of my own.  Please answer honestly--of course you are under no obligation to do so.

Have you attended a meeting of the School Board of Escambia County, ever?  If so, when was the last time?
Yes, and most recent was Willie Spears night where I gave you some advice as a  person who has been elected
to municipal government, --- that your invocation policy has a problem, and I'm just trying to help you save some taxpayer $.

You mention a tutoring program.  Are you currently tutoring a student?  If so, how long?
No, but I and a number of others are interested.  Would we with university degrees not qualify due to our philosophies?

You ask, "Can we just never be friends?"  I think that is an unfair question;  as a public official, it is part of my job to undertake outreach with the constituents, which I do.  Thus this email.  I am a friendly person, and If I met you I'm certain we would get along just fine.  With this said, I would need to know a lot more about you before I would call you a friend. 
Friends share commonalities, friends share values, friends share vision.  Friends are friends unconditionally, once they are trusted.  I do not know you, therefore how can I consider you a friend?

My apologies---I was just wondering if anyone like me could ever be considered a friend.  If we choose to disagree, like
many in history have done, and yet still be friendly, but I see your requirements.

But let me ask you one final question.  Must I bring a person off the street that I do not know as my personal invitee to bring a pre-meeting prayer on my behalf in order to prove I am a good and just person?  Putting someone like you ahead of MANY friends I do already have that share my beliefs--is that fair to them?
I would have no problem with you doing it just this way in a side chapel room that is not open to the public. Then "someone like me" would never be heard from ever again. 

If I chose to bring someone that shares my faith, and that of the entire board, over someone like you that nobody on the board shares a common religion with--does this make me unjust.
Not at all if this were your church---it would make absolute sense.

Remember the context, Andre;  These prayers are for the benefit of the elected legislative body--not to satisfy some religious litmus test.  So, again I ask--if I don't choose you but instead choose someone that is my friend, somebody I know, who shares a common religion with my peers-how is this wrong?
Again, it is not wrong in a religious setting and I defend your right to the freedom of religion and to worship how you choose.  So if they are for the body then have them just for the body and not the general public. SCOTUS has said if you have invocations for the body, open to the public, you must allow the public to also invoke you the body without discrimination.

These are important questions the answers for which I would like to know from your perspective.

Have a great day!   Thanks, and you too.  Andre

Jeff B.

Jeff Bergosh
Escambia County School Board
District 1 Board Representative

>>> Andre Ryland  10/06/14 3:45 PM >>>
Jeff,      My interest is at least three fold. 
I am a  taxpayer. I am concerned about conflicts of interest and illegalities by public officials.  Finally, our organization and members are interested in tutoring programs for at needs children.
I am the President and Celebrant of the Humanists of West Florida.  Are we not acceptable?
Are you suggesting none of these are worthwhile or good enough concerns regarding our public schools?
Can we just never be friends?
Let me know,Andre

From: Jeffrey Bergosh
To: Andre Ryland
Sent: Monday, October 6, 2014 7:04 AM
Subject: Re: ECSB Invocations

Thanks for your interest, BTW--do you have any connections to our public school system?  Typically, I select folks that have either a strong connection to the schools or a personal friend.  Have you, are you, at all involved in our schools and what it is that we do?

Let me know.


Jeff B

Jeff Bergosh
Escambia County School Board
District 1 Board Representative

>>> Andre Ryland  10/05/14 16:48 PM >>>
Dear Mr Bergosh,
    Hello again,
    I am Celebrant Andre Ryland of <address> Pensacola 32514, and I am still interested in offering the Invocation for upcoming Escambia County School District meetings. 
    I, as a Humanist Celebrant, would be requesting you the board  members make the best decisions you can with the education, knowledge and experience you have attained, without prejudice.  I ask this so that even we of minority philosophic thinking might still, with equality, be included in all governmental considerations for invocations per the Supreme Court of the United States.
    Would you consider me for an Invocation please?
Sincerely,Cel. Andre RylandHumanists of West Florida

EMAIL ECSB's Gerald Boone Rejects Humanist Leader Offering Invocation

I'll credit Mr Boone for at least answering, though offering no legal justification for his rejection.  Too bad he still considers it his privilege to censor out invocation offers he doesn't like, while seeking out Christians to offer (illegal) prayers which contradict the school's own policy of having a moment of silence.

----- Forwarded Message -----
From: Gerald Boone <>
To: Buz Ryland
Sent: Saturday, August 16, 2014 3:44 PM
Subject: Re: Escambia Schools

Mr. Ryland,

There is no application process for presenting the invocation at the school Board Meetings.  It is simply the choice of the Board member whose turn it is to make the selection.  It is my turn for the September meeting, and I will not need your service.  Furthermore, the individuals I have chosen in months past have not invoked their beliefs for my consideration when I am confronted with decision making.

Sent from my iPad

On Aug 14, 2014, at 8:43 PM, "Andre Ryland" <> wrote:
Dear Mr. Boone,

    I am Celebrant Andre Ryland of 8355 Banberry Rd. Pensacola 32514, and I am sincerely interested in offering the "Opening Words/Invocation" for an upcoming Escambia County School District meeting.  I ask you how I might go about applying for the role. 
   These invocations, to my knowledge, are a common occurrence most often done by religious leaders invoking their beliefs for your consideration when making decisions.  I as a Humanist Celebrant would be requesting you the board  members make the best decisions you can with the education and knowledge you have attained, without prejudice.  I ask this so that even we of minority philosophic thinking might still, with equality, be included in all governmental considerations.
    Would you consider me for your Invocations please?

Cel. Andre Ryland
Humanists of West Florida

VIDEO: 11.18.14 ECSB Public Forum Comments


My public forum comments; I skipped the prayer (until next month) because Mrs Hightower offered a poem and a moment of silence instead!!! That's progress that I doubt the others will acknowledge or repeat. 

There is still no written policy, nor response to letters from AU or FFRF. They STILL reject offers from Humanists, Pagans and anyone else non-Biblical. At the same time, they are seeking out Christians... and one Jew. As Mr Bergosh said: (paraphrasing) "you want diversity, here's your diversity; next time it's my turn I'm bringing a Jewish person to deliver an invocation". Wow - ignoring others' requests and seeking out a Jew (like Jesus). That's really inclusive. 

VIDEO Christian Responds to ECSB Public Forum Comments

I LOVE that someone is finally responding, since the School Board won't.  Next month (and every month thereafter until there is a change), I'll give them something to really respond to - prayers that include MANY minorities.

Here's the video:

This was the response from one person in the audience of the ECSB meeting.  I find his logic faulty because it doesn't acknowledge the Constitution's prohibition of establishing a religion or free expression or religion (regardless of whether you agree or not). If you are going to have a prayer, you can't exclude religions you don't like.  Also, is that an ECSD lanyard around his neck?

While he was speaking, I thought Jeff Bergosh was going to get whiplash, he was nodding so vigorously.  Clearly he approves of standing up for the special privilege afforded to Christians during school board prayer.  And of course, it's the right of each SB member to make sure minority prayers don't get heard.

There is still no written policy, no pledge not to discriminate, and no response to letters from FFRF or AU.  In other words, ECSB meetings allow Bible-based religion dominion over all prayers.  Others need not apply.

Yet Another Apt Cartoon

To be fair, the Jewish folks are allowed (since Jesus was a Jew after all).  That's what ECSB member calls 'diversity'.  I think his quote was: "You want diversity, here's your diversity - I'll be inviting a Jewish person to deliver my next invocation."  A non-Biblical religion - "no, not ever, ever on my watch".

Sunday, November 30, 2014

"Invocation... by Invitation Only" - a talk at the UU Church of Pensacola 11.30.14

<SLIDEs not included here>

SLIDE four directions  (Centering Music)
lyrics, other slides

SLIDE invocation
in·vo·ca·tion, noun: the action of invoking something or someone; the summoning of a deity; or the incantation used for this

SLIDE jesus flag
If you've attended two local board meetings, you've heard an invocation, whether you wanted to or not.  It goes like this:  There's a welcome.  Then they introduce a special guest.   You're asked to stand and he approaches the pulpit.  Eyes are closed and heads are bowed and it starts: "we worship you, heavenly Father" "we ask for your guidance" "we trust that you are in control".

SLIDE one nation under
Beyond that, I've heard the Lord's Prayer (recited by the entire room), the one true savior exalted, prophecy predicted, governments urged to become one with the Christ, and Biblical righteousness summoned.  Almost always "in Jesus' name".  Then the Pledge of Allegiance,  and we are suddenly one nation, under God.

SLIDE coexist fight
What don't you hear are: calls for simple human compassion, or invocations of logic and reasoning.  No one (except me perhaps) brings blessings from female, minority, or non-traditional gods.  And only rarely is there a moment of silence for INDIVIDUAL prayer or reflection.

SLIDE - radical devil
The whole ritual has become a major pet peeve of mine.  And, in the eyes of some, it's turned me into a religious radical AND an agent of Satan.  
Now, I am not against prayer.  I've led many, of the Christian, New Thought, and  Pagan varieties.  In fact, I consider it my job to invoke the divine, the way I know best - through music.

SLIDE  igwt
It's EXCLUSIVE prayer - especially unwelcoming and discriminatory GOVERNMENT-LED prayer that bothers me.   And when only Bible-based believers are invited to speak, something is sketchy.  So I decided to see for myself.
In the Summer of 2012, I asked to deliver my own invocations.  As music director at a Christian church, my offers were quickly accepted by the City and County.  Here's what I said:

SLIDE  (county any 4)
heads bowed...
Mother, father, gods of ALL people,
we come today   in our humble way    to shape a small part of creation
Gathering to a task, in your diverse and glorious presence,
together we invoke your unique blessings,   your light and essence

SLIDE (Allah etc)
May the efforts of this council blend
the justness of Allah    with the wisdom of Odin
May Mithra the everlasting ground them grace, and so mother Gaia
May Yahweh forgive their shortcomings    and Beddru foresee their salvation
MAKE light their mission,   Brahma and Dionysus
and imbue each decision     with the mercy of Isis

SLIDE  (Krishna etc)
Whatever your virtues,   name or form,
may we be worthy    of this wholly equal assemblage
BaHa and Elohim we beseech you     Krishna and Ek Onkar, come
illuminate our civic path    by air, water, earth and sun

SLIDE (Jesus atheist)
As do we praise you too,    Jehovah of Christ,     Huītzilopōchtli, and Ba'al
for the sanguine sacrifice    that frees us all
And for the bounty of reason, science and logic,
we thank the ONE deity   none of us knows,    
that of Humanist, atheist and agnostic

SLIDE (Buddha FSM)
Divine love, lead us,  enlightened by Buddha and Eshu,
empowered by Thetan spirits, that we may govern  
with the wisdom and the good    of ALL gods of all nations
PLEASE impart our humble congregation  
with prudence, prosperity and peace this day
and so we pray,     AMEN
...Oddly, I never got a follow-up invitation.

SLIDE scotuspopes
Almost two years later, at long last, the Supreme Court ruled on the Constitutionality of so called "legislative prayer".  My side lost; however, as Buz will tell you, we won some protections to curb preaching and discrimination.  But, in practice, such prayers ARE still preachy and there IS discrimination.  And locally, it's not getting any better on it's own.  Here's why:

SLIDE privilege
SOMEONE chooses who gets to pray.  At the City, it's an unknown staff person.  At the Escambia County Commission and School Board, the system is different, and built for discrimination.  For both, board members rotate the responsibility of bringing a prayer-giver.  It's the sole discretion of each elected official to choose a believer they approve of.  And there is ZERO oversight.  So.. they almost always choose Christians.  Frequently, the same pray-givers appear over and over... while willing religious minorities (like Buz and I) are turned down.  In short, if you're not Bible-believing, you'll probably get stone-walled.

None of these boards will discuss the issue nor offer a written policy.  We've been trying.  The best I've gotten was one begrudging return appearance from the City and one from the County.  You may have heard about the latter - the same Pagan call to directions I sang today.  Non-believers like Buz can't even get a first invocation.  Besides offering invocations, we've tried meeting with staff and attorneys, contacting representatives, speaking at public forums, and enlisting viral and local press.  Even letters from the FFRF and Americans United are ignored.  I've documented all this on my blog - including video and news links.

SLIDE - churchstate
As of now, not ONE SINGLE local representative will commit to an inclusive prayer policy that removes personal privilege from the equation.  But, when it comes to religious discrimination, the ECSB takes it to a new level - with one member, Jeff Bergosh, leading the pack.
In May, I asked the school board if I could offer an invocation.  Mr Bergosh had the next month, and he called me right back.  You can read about that exchange on my blog.  In short, he asked "Are you Christian?"  I said no.  "What are you" Pagan.  His reply: "oh no, not ever, ever." I wanted to discuss equal access, but he hung up.  Every month since, I've been appealing to the full board, always to no avail.

SLIDE - bergosh satan
If you get bored, check out Bergosh's blog of self-righteous opinions.  In it, he portrays minority prayer-givers as offensive, Satanic nuisances, trying to pull a prank.  He warns of voodoo witch doctors and animal sacrifices.  He denigrates non-Christians.  And he generally makes excuses to exclude minorities, while claiming he does not 'ever, ever' discriminate.

SLIDE got privilege
Sadly, the school board as a whole supports the 'invitation only' undestanding.  That way, they avoid prayers "offensive" to the majority.  To date, NO school board member has accepted a prayer offer from a minority or non-believer.  There's still NO written policy.  And, they've said, they will NOT revamp their process - unless they are sued.  I'm working on that last option.

SLIDE - 4 ECSB shots
For now, I say: if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.  I can still take action and so can you.  We can ALL reject official prayers.  When the time comes to stand and pray along, just sit.  Or stand and turn your back.  I prefer to substitute my own invocation.  From the front row, I lay out a prayer rug and chant quietly so I don't have to listen.  I've also rotated and quietly called to the four directions.

SLIDE coexist
The NEXT step is to offer prayers honoring some others' less-welcome faiths - praying during the public forum.  Pastafarian, Scientologist, Astrologist, even Satanist... if one is welcome, all should be.  And yes, I'm taking requests.  It's not the same as an official invocation, but at least minority prayers will get heard.

SLIDE Jefferson
At this point, I'd love to discuss the difference in school prayer and legislative invocations - though our school board makes no distinction.  But I don't have time.  Just know that school systems are guided by much more stringent standards than councils covered the recent Galloway decision.
SLIDE student handbook
Sadly, a lawsuit will be needed to loosen the school board's commitment to Christian dominion at its meetings.  Even sadder, their own rules forbid 'agents of the District from coercing, advocating, encouraging religious activity'.  They even call for a 'moment of silence, not to be conducted as a religious service'.  That sounds quite reasonable and respectful.  Too bad they don't practice what they preach.

SLIDE stay on your side  
Call me a radical, or a devil, if you must.  But I truly believe that our government - and especially our schools - should always be neutral regarding religion - from the lowest to highest levels.  That's the only way to respect ALL religions (or lack thereof) AND to maintain a clear separation of church and state.  A moment of silence does that.

SLIDE dowager
Perhaps the Dowager Countess best summed up my aversion to official public prayer: "My dear" she said "Religion is like a penis.  It's fine to have one and be proud of it, but when you take it out and wave it in my face, that's when we have a problem."

SLIDE santajackfairy
The bottom line is this.  Citizens don't come to a government meeting to pray, nor to be prayed at.  But all of us - from atheists and Pagans, to Christians and Muslims - we all hold the same Constitutional right to exercise our religion, when permitted in the public square.  That's not happening.
If our government wants everyone to feel welcome equally...  maybe it would be better to just start the meeting.
Thank you

SLIDE humanist
while Buz speaks...

SLIDE  scotuspopes
"Everything about the situation infringes the First Amendment... ...with proper invitation"

SLIDE humanist (for the rest of Buz' talk)

v VIDEO: secular invocations

W SLIDE Do Learn (for wrap-up)

SLIDE (offertory song) FSM stained glass
- Lord's Prayer ala Malotte
- please take with grain of salt, and perhaps some Parmesan cheese


<First, I want to share MY belief.  For brevity's sake, I self-identify as an Agnostic Pagan Pantheist.  I'm agnostic because I don't claim certain knowledge any divine presence.  I'm Pagan because that's how Christians describe polytheists reject the big-three religions AND claim a spiritual connection with nature.  And I'm pantheist because I like to think that divinity exists in innumerable forms - as an unnamable, spiritual force permeating all living things, silently and (almost) imperceptively.  Almost.  But that's another discussion. >

What YOU Can Do:
- Offer your own invocation or moment of silence.
- Speak out in emails, letters, monthly public forums.
- Demand a written policy from County and School Board.

Where to Learn More:
David's blog:
- board contact info, news stories, public forum transcripts, correspondence, legal letters, opinion pieces, my beliefs, background infom, meeting and invocation video
Friendly Atheist:
Operation Inclusion:
Freedom From Religion Foundation:

Words for Meditation:
"In Silence" by Amitav Radiance
Absorb the silence around
Know the silence and it messages
Connect with the inner self
At rest is the soul and mind
Moments that reveals the truth
Silence douses the flames of uncertainty
Rendezvous with silence
As silence is there to be deciphered

Kagan in dissent:
Everything about the situation infringes the First Amendment. That the Town Board selects, month after month and year after year, prayergivers who will reliably speak in the voice of Christianity, and so places itself behind a single creed. That in offering those sectarian prayers, the Board’s chosen clergy members repeatedly call on individuals, prior to participating in local governance, to join in a form of worship that may be at odds with their own beliefs. That the clergy thus put some residents to the unenviable choice of either pretending to pray like the majority or declining to join its communal activity, at the very moment of petitioning their elected leaders. That the practice thus divides the citizenry, creating one class that shares the Board’s own evident religious beliefs and another (far smaller) class that does not. And that the practice also alters a dissenting citizen’s relationship with her government, making her religious difference salient when she seeks only to engage her elected representatives.

Closing Words:
W.E. DuBois:
“Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow, not some more convenient season. It is today that our best work can be done, and not some future day or future year. It is today that we fit ourselves for the greater usefulness of tomorrow. Today is the seed time, now are the hours of work, and tomorrow comes the harvest and the playtime.”

VIDEO: November ECSB Public Forum

coming soon

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

ECSB Meeting Comments, TONIGHT!

BELOW are my comments, as I intended to say them before tonight ECSB meeting tonight.  However, it was Mrs Hightower's turn as invocation-chooser and she read a poem, then asked for a Moment of Silence (individual prayer)!  In that spirit, I skipped the minority-requested prayer I had planned.  I'll bring it next time - unless they continue with the community-inclusive and legally-sound MOS, letting everyone pray according to their own conscience.

* Video soon, along with a counter-argument by someone saying this we were founded on 'Christian values' - therefore the board should refuse non-Christians an equal chance to pray in the public forum.  Apparently, he doesn't agree with the establishment clause or the free exercise or free speech clauses.

** Still no written invocation policy, nor response to letters from FFRF and AU.

On this day, when you have sworn to uphold the Constitution, I am TRULY SORRY you won't acknowledge half your constituents.  In terms of religious expression, you DON'T EVER TRY.  Every month, this meeting begins with an official prayer - invoking only ONE god - that of the Bible, and ALWAYS in Jesus' name.  Clearly, other gods and religions just are not welcome.

How is this legal?  We've asked, but you refuse to clarify your invocation policy in ANY way.  We get  it.  You want only your religion spoken here, but you can't put that in writing.  So you've agreed that it's your 'personal choice' as board members.  By doing so, you've 'kept it Christian' for years.  You've denied several minorities who offered to pray - effectively establishing your religion and inhibiting the free expression of others'.  That's wrong and illegal and you should be ashamed.

In Escambia County, only 53 percent of us identify with a Christian congregation.  You want to welcome ALL citizens here.  So why start with a prayer that nearly half of us may not even agree with?  This is NOT your church.  Only one type of prayer can welcome all - an inclusive moment of silence - the very same solution you prescribe for EVERY OTHER Escambia school function.
It is simply not your place to decide which beliefs deserve a government-endorsed pulpit and which do not.  And, until ALL are welcome to pray at the appointed time, I WILL bring minority prayers, if merely at the public forum.  I hope you'll then understand how we minorities feel when regularly asked us to pray against our beliefs.

That said, the following prayer is NOT mine, but delivered by request.  Please accept it with the same grace you ask of others:


<May we never again be subjected to prayers we don't agree with.>
Thank you.

Monday, November 10, 2014

IN Weekly Article - Battle over Public Prayer

Mosty, this article seems accurate.  I wish it had emphasized how Bergosh asked me, on initial contact. "Are you Christian?"  Based on my answer, I was rejected.  That's clearly discrimination.  It also skips over the fact that I cleared my schedule for the November invocation (for Ms Hightower).  Despite that fact, she rescinded here invitation.  Finally, I do not see music is my true religion.  Music is a means to access the divine.  It is not a religion, as such, but a way to get in touch with one's divine inspiration - like prayer, nature, meditation or good works.

The ECSB STILL has not accepted any offers from non-Christians - despite several asking. Bergosh skipped over such offers to ask a (token) Jew in January.  Hooray, diversity!?  Since 'offensive' minority religions don't get equal access, the ECSB can expect a lawsuit.  The ECSB is not a legislative body, per Galloway.  It's prayers fall under school prayer laws and are an illegal establishment of religion - especially since only Biblical religions are welcome.  Like the BOCC, they have no written policy regarding invocations.  They've refused my suggestion that they publish one.

David Suhor and The Latest Battle Over Prayer

By Steven Poulin and Scott Satterwhite
The battle over the separation of church and state is, once again, being waged in a local school district. To quote Yogi Berra, “Déjà vu, all over again.” The new phase began when local jazz musician David Suhor asked to give the opening invocation at a recent Escambia County School Board (ECSB) meeting. The board, specifically board member Jeff Bergosh, refused. Not because Suhor wanted to pray at the ECSB meeting, which often opens with a Christian prayer, but because Suhor is not a Christian.
Though Suhor enjoys living in Pensacola, he often feels “crushed” by the ubiquity of religion throughout the area. But like many non-Christians, Suhor’s come to accept this aspect of Pensacola. Suhor identifies religiously as an agnostic pagan pantheist and made waves recently by insisting Escambia County’s local governing bodies, which often open public meetings with a Christian prayer, respect minority religious views or do away with the opening invocation. His doggedness about religious inclusion mostly results from local officials resistance to do away with the prayers altogether over the standard moment of silence.
Ultimately, Suhor prefers that the county bodies open with moments of silence instead of religious prayer. The Santa Rosa County School Board has been doing as much since 2009 following lawsuits against faculty-led prayer at Pace High School. But Suhor feels that since the Supreme Court’s recent Town of Greece v. Galloway decision (that ruled prayers were acceptable at local government meetings so long as they did not denigrate other religions) government boards that allow prayer at their meetings should allow prayers of all religions. To do otherwise would be religious discrimination and, according to many civil libertarians, a violation of the U.S. Constitution.
“Religious freedom is eroded when the government endorses any particular religious viewpoint,” said Benjamin Stevenson, staff attorney with the local chapter of the ACLU, after initially filing its lawsuit against Santa Rosa School District for endorsing religious practices in 2008. The ACLU won its case the following year. Santa Rosa County schools now open with a moment of silence instead of Christian prayer. Not so for ECSB.
Suhor said the ECSB’s actions act to endorse one religion over all others by allowing almost solely Christian-led prayers at the board’s invocations. In one instance in particular, the ECSB allowed Escambia High School coach Willie Spears (who was recently fired for insubordination not related to this issue) to lead the school board in prayer. Spears ended his prayer: “I pray that when people see the ECSD seal, they will think of Jesus the Christ.” For those who do not agree with this view, statements as such set them at odds with their elected representatives.
To some, Suhor’s agnosticism and pagan beliefs are off-putting. According to Suhor, identifying as agnostic “means you don’t claim to know with any certainty that there is any supernatural power.” Pagan is also a complicated term. “Traditionally used by Christians to describe anyone, especially polytheists, who do not accept the traditional Biblical interpretation of God and there being only one god and no others,” Suhor said. “Pantheist believes that the spirit of life, if you want to call it that, or God, exists in all creation among all things.”
Suhor’s religious crusade has noted some victories—most notably when the Escambia County Commission opened with him singing the invocation of “A Call to the Four Directions” by the anarcho-feminist and pagan writer Starhawk. Although Commissioner Wilson Robertson walked out during it, the YouTube video* of the invocation remains popular and has garnered over 75,000 views with nearly unanimous support in the comment section.
Still, according to Suhor, the ECSB is still less than amused and shows little interest in opening their invocations to other religions. He says he called the ECSB back in June to do an invocation and was put in touch with Board member Jeff Bergosh. Suhor says Bergosh asked him if he was Christian. When Suhor said he wasn’t, he was asked “Well, what are you?” When Suhor said he wanted to do a pagan/pantheist invocation, he claims Bergosh told him “Not on my watch.”
According to Suhor, he contacted other Board members who categorically rejected him. Even Board member Patty Hightower, who had accepted his invitation at first, later rescinded it at a ECSB meeting. In protest to his exclusion, Suhor opened a prayer rug before the meeting was called to order and chanted, what Bergosh described as “gibberish,” but what Suhor said was “Hare Krishna.”
While Suhor argues for the separation of religion and government, Bergosh thinks prayer should be accepted in public, including the meetings of elected officials. “I have three kids who all participated in sports, and one of the most heartwarming things I see is when kids huddle up around each other before a game and they pray,” Bergosh said.
According to Bergosh, prayers are necessary at ECSB meetings because school board members often deal with “heavy issues.” These “heavy issues” require prayer over a moment of silence, Bergosh relayed. “We have to acquiesce in this nation so frequently to a vocal minority of people. In this case we should be able to, as individual Board members, invite to prayer who we want, and not [try] to make someone like Suhor happy.”
Both Suhor and Bergosh have been dueling their complaints with each other in their respective blogs.* Bergosh also alleges that Suhor had been invited, but declined at first because of personal scheduling conflicts. Suhor disagrees with Bergosh’s version of the story. Yet Suhor’s main contention is not with Bergosh but with the school board’s system of choosing who gets to do invocations, which rotates among individual board members. This rotating system favors Christian churches with little accommodation of other faiths while putting those of other beliefs to a “religious test” when they request to do the invocation, as happened with Suhor.
To Suhor, this battle over public prayer is ultimately about equality for minority religions. “If you open it up to one religion, you have to open it up to everyone, without discriminations,” Suhor said.
While Pensacola certainly has a reputation as a largely Christian community, the region is more religiously diverse than is often acknowledged.
According to statistics gathered by the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA)* in 2010, only 53.2 percent of the population identify with a particular Christian congregation. The other half is divided between the other world religions, including Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Paganism and many more. The vast majority of Escambia residents in this group, however, do not identify with any religion whatsoever. This study underlines Suhor’s issues with the ECSB.
Suhor said Bergosh “has this idea that the audience is 100 percent Christian.” But Bergosh claims the issue is not about religion, but instead is about Suhor’s desire to “make a splash” in the media. Bergosh said he will even invite some non-Christians to do the invocations by the time of the rotation in January to make this point.
Whether Suhor or another pagan will be called to offer the invocation awaits to be seen. Nonetheless, Suhor wants his critics to see this issue as he does. “I would like people to consider how it feels for someone who is not of the majority religion to try to participate in their local government and feel like they are being prayed at by someone who is endorsing a religion.”
To Suhor, the issue is not about him. He would rather this controversy go away so he could return to practicing what he says is his one true religion—music. “This is not about me at all. I would not put myself out there to get attention in such a negative way, especially as a musician, if I didn’t feel this is a just call and there are legal [issues] going on in all of our boards, but especially the school system.”

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Cartoon Sums Up Government Prayer Debate PERFECTLY

Actually, in our local government, the 'state' representatives would break down the wall,  then invite the church over (Bible-believers only, of course).
It begs the question - how many churches would welcome a government official giving a speech before every Sunday service?  Yet, that's exactly the deference our government gives, and asks the audience to endure.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

VIDEO & TEXT: 10-21 ECSB Comments Requesting a WRITTEN Prayer Policy


Delivered 10.21.14 during the Public Forum:

I'm here again to discuss the invocations offered at this meeting. I'm not going to waste my breath arguing for an inclusive moment of silence – the same one you prescribe for rest of the school system. Nor will I try to persuade you that this is a school prayer issue, and not one of legislative tradition. If need be, our courts WILL settle these questions. I'm simply asking this board to bring its practice out of the dark - and to RESPOND so we may all know your prayer policy.

You've received letters from two civil rights attorneys, charging religious discrimination in your current process. You're all aware of the legal peril facing our school system if nothing changes. Yet, you move forward with the same procedures, where each SB member has discretion to reject unwanted invocations... and where all prayers, predictably, reflect the majority faith, as if endorsing it.

And there lies the problem – limiting public religious expression to one type is NOT legal.  And, refusing invocation offers from minorities is clearly unconstitutional. Several of us have requested inclusion and were met with dubious rejections: ranging from "Are you Christian?... no... then no, not ever" and "I choose those who represent MY beliefs" to "I don't need your service" or no answer at all. Keeping a system in place, which sanctions such government discrimination, is not only illegal and unwise, it's unAmerican. What's more, this constitutes a violation of my 1st Amendment rights. And I don’t take that lightly.

So, I'm imploring this board to look closely at your process and to SERIOUSLY ASK how you may continue school-board-led prayer without violating the Constitution - if you even can. How are invocations chosen? Who may pray and who may not? What is proper content and what is improper? Your constituents deserve hard answers to these simple questions. So please, enlighten us.

Any discussion should result in ONE SIMPLE THING - a WRITTEN policy available to the public. A carefully outlined procedure could make your process more fair, or at least more clear. Such a policy would remove the burden of censorship from each SB member. And it should lessen the legal liability to our school system. Those seem like worthy goals.

In conclusion, I want to pose a hypothetical situation: How would it feel if this governing body consistently asked YOU to pray to gods you don't believe in? What if every prayer spoken aloud here contradicted YOUR deeply-held beliefs? <Well, that happens to someone EVERY time this meeting starts with a sectarian prayer. And... if you wanted to offer your own blessing, how would it feel to be rejected as 'offensive'?>  Would you want your government to do that unto you, as you do unto others? I hope your answers (and a little empathy) will guide your actions. You can do better. In fact, you must. Thank you.

<By way of help, please look to the Supreme Court. Americans United for the Separation of Church and State has already suggested a system that comports with the Galloway decision's guidelines. It calls for a random and inclusive rotation. AND it advises that invocation speakers may not proselytize, preach damnation, nor denigrate other religions. That would be a good start.
Of course, you could avoid this problem by taking a more inclusive approach - one where our government doesn't ask ANY citizen to pray against their faith. That solution is the legally sound and non-discriminatory moment of silence - the same solution you publish as policy for every other school function.>

Many of our citizens don't believe in prayer at all. They would rather our government stick to civil matters. Even heathens such as they recognize - if this body justifies public prayer under Galloway v Greece, it should be administered fairly and clearly. It would behoove this board to clearly define your policies according to the law and to be prepared to defend them. That's all I'm asking today. Please - take this chance to act proactively and voluntarily.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

VIDEO! Secular Invocations to Inspire ALL Citizens

This was put together by the Central Florida Freethought Community to show what a good (non-sectarian) invocation can be.  Notice how no one was asked to pray against their conscience?  Enjoy.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

'Model Policy' regarding Legal Invocations

This does not really apply to the ECSB, since they are not legislative and their invocations are illegal under school prayer law.  Just the same, they have no written policy, leaving all prayers solely to the privilege of SB members.

The Escambia BOCC and City Council (who have no written policies either) would be wise to adopt this policy to assure the public that they are not discriminating in choosing prayer-givers (almost all Christian to date).

This letter went to the BOCC and ECSB, along with AU's legal clarification and call for change to policy.  This first step (giving them a chance to alter their policy) is necessary before filing a lawsuit to demand change.

While I agree that this policy would be a VAST improvement over one that is completely discretionary (the current system), it does not address some important points:
1) My literal 'invoking' of the spirits of nature in my Pagan Invocation seems perfectly reasonable as a blessing and call to involve the spirits of nature in the proceedings.  While not typical, it is no less valid.  Just as a Christian would call God's presence, I believe it is OK to invoke the presence of alternate gods of the speaker's choosing.
2) This does not completely call for an end to the 'rotation' system, which has commissioners picking the prayer-givers and acting as censors.  This system is inherently discriminatory as long as it allows some commissioners to reject offers - like Mr Robertson did.  I believe all our bodies should go to a master list, rather than allow political or religious privilege to play a part (as when commissioners choose).
3) It should be more clear that commissioners should welcome all invocation speakers without leaving the room or otherwise showing disfavor for some prayer givers.
4) It says nothing about employees, introduced as such, giving prayers.  This practice - common at the BOCC, where one employee gave 1 of every 5 prayers, appears as an endorsement of that employee's religion.

Of course, I still favor an inclusive moment of silence EVERY TIME.  This is the ONLY solution that doesn't ask anyone to pray against their conscience, nor does it show favor to any particular religion.  It is the only solution that will not result in sensitive believers or non-believers being offended.

American United Letters to ECSB, BOCC

These letters went to the BOCC and ECSB today.   This first step (alerting them of legal problems and giving them a chance to alter their policy) is necessary before filing a lawsuit to demand change.

From Americans United for Separation of Church and State to the ECSB:

From same to the Escambia BOCC:

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Question/Challenge to Commissioners, SB Members - Post WRITTEN Policies!

I'd like to challenge the Escambia County School Board, the County Commission and the City Council to issue WRITTEN policies, clarifying their invocation selection process AND the guidelines for prayers given by the public.  I've asked for such guidelines, but they don't exist.

I'd like them to put in writing how they choose who may pray, who they may exclude and WHY (on what legal basis).  I'd like them to affirm a policy of non-discrimination and promise to accept invocation offers on a FIRST COME FIRST SERVE basis - with ALL commissioners being subject to the same rules.

If they insist on continuing to hold church at meetings, I'd like all bodies to clarify guidelines on acceptable invocations and give them to all prayer-givers.  I'd like them to specify a time limit and make it clear that speakers may not denigrate other religions, threaten damnation, or attempt to convert (proselytize) the audience toward their religion (per Galloway v Greece NY) .

Finally, I'd like each body to affirm that government staff may not lead prayers, nor ask the audience to take part.  This is also against Galloway and gives the impression of the government officially endorsing the prayer in question.

Of course, I PREFER an inclusive moment of silence which respects the right of all to pray and doesn't ask anyone to pray against their conscience when they come to participate in their government.

Also, this applies to the ECSB... as long as they continue public prayer at meetings.  They are NOT protected by Galloway, since other laws apply - involving staff-mandated prayer when students are present.  The student handbook is clear - there should be no official-led prayer at school events.

In addition, the ECSB should clarify whether the invocation prayer occurs before the meeting starts.  At present, prayer begins AFTER 5:30 (meeting start time), but BEFORE the meeting is actually called to order.  So is it part of the meeting or not?  If not, why are the commissioners in charge?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Troy Moon (PNJ columnist) Ask Which Invocations Are Allowed

I'll be asking the same questions in Public Forum at the next ECSB board meeting and the BOCC (after the election).  Both boards need a WRITTEN policy to clarify when (and legally how) they may discriminate against religious minorities.

Troy's Article:

Sunday, September 28, 2014

AUDIO - Pagan Calling the Corners SUNG, better quality

Some folks asked for better audio, so I recorded this on my phone at home, adding back the two lines I skipped before the BOCC.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

the FRIENDLY ATHEIST, Addicting Info Understand Religious Equality - ARTICLES

My video is over 17000 views now, with comments from every direction.  Here are two articles that (unexpectedly) brought such awareness:

I guess I'm glad I sang it after all.

Friday, September 26, 2014

VIDEO Link - Local TV Discusses Public Invocations after Pagan Prayer/Song

Of course, you can judge for yourself.  I thought the Pagan invocation was a beautiful way to summon blessings upon our commissioners.  Sorry if they didn't get it.  Maybe you know how non-Christians feel now.  I was glad Mr May stood up for American values!

I thought Mr Robertson was ignorant in talking about 'Satanic' prayers, which are even at issue here - though they deserve as much respect as any belief.  I'm sorry the story didn't say that he has never had a minority deliver an invocation and that he refused several offers only to invite back a speaker who turned his last invocation into a revival meeting -

Worst (dull surprise) is Jeff Bergosh of the ECSB, who wasn't shown.  If he thinks I'm 'pushy' or 'off-putting' by demanding equal consideration of minority religion, he doesn't get how the process works.  Wouldn't you be pushy if you were told you can't pray even once because your religion may be "offensive" (but mine is not, so we get ALL prayers)?  Would you keep asking politely (and pointlessly) after you were asked "Are you Christian?", then denied an equal chance to pray based on your answer?  Would you leave the room (before the meeting even starts) and lose your seat to avoid listening to a prayer you don't believe in?  Or would you turn away or pray in your own way, as is your right as an American?  Would you excuse school-sponsored/led prayer which, by law and it's OWN RULES, is not allowed in our school system?  Finally, would you support an ILLEGAL and potentially costly act of discrimination and religious privilege by your elected government officials?  Or would you seek some redress and public awareness of such illegal discrimination?  I choose to stand up for equality, non-discrimination, the Constitution and holding our elected officials accountable for their choices.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

About Starhawk's Pagan Call to Directions, Gestures delivered 9.25 Escambia BOCC

AUDIO (better quality than video):


"Since there are no such things as directional entities, it follows that there is nothing “out there” to which to ascribe all these correspondences either. All of this is entirely a human invention. Humans made up the whole thing. The directions and everything associated with them is a fabrication, nothing more. However this is not to say that these inventions are useless. In one example, Blacksun, a respected priest from Aquarian Tabernacle Church, instructed the direction callers to embody the elemental attributes of their respective directions and lend those attributes to the work in the center by their attention, attitudes, body language, and focus. Even though they had no other assignment, their elemental energies contributed strongly to the whole ritual. 

It was on a trip to Guatemala that I learned another way to understand the directions and their uses. We visited some of the rural communities in Guatemala and were invited to participate in a series of modern Maya rituals. I published the story of these rituals in an earlier Witchvox article. The Maya shamans do hail the directions and they have assigned different attributes and deities to each. However, they do not command them. They do not even treat the directions as beings. Instead they lay out the four directions to ground and center themselves. They designate what is “out there” to identify where “here” is. In other words, when the shaman calls the directions, he or she is claiming his or her position in time and space. Calling the directions is like announcing our current GPS coordinates – it is not about them “out there”, it is about us right “here”.

My interpretation of this Call to the Directions, in song, on VIDEO:

Regarding the two finger hand position:

VIDEO! Pagan Invocation SUNG! 9.25 Escambia County Commission

Not my best performance, especially at the beginning. Missed some gestures too. Nice camera work by the techs at BOCC! Wilson Robertson left the room. Otherwise, uneventful. Now will the Board consider an inclusive 'moment of silence' instead?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

ALL (relevant) VIDEOS - Local Invocations and Public Comments

TRANSCRIPTS for prepared comments are on each video.

9.25 Pagan Invocation SUNG! Escambia County Commission

9.16 Comments at ECSB Open Forum asking to reconsider MOS:

9.11 (off the cuff) rebuttal to earlier discussion re: ECSB Invocations

9.12 and 9.11 ECSB discuss, REJECT changing invocations

9.4 Escambia BOCC Invocation by Freethinker Geoff DeSena
- invited by outgoing commission Valentino, ignoring others

8.19 ECSB Initial Public Forum Comments - for MOS

spring 2014 Escambia BOCC comments against invocations:

2.13.14 Secular Invocation @ Pensacola City Council - calling for change

8.2012  My original "Anyone's Invocation" given at BOCC and City Council.  The BOCC expected a Christian invocation because I worked @ Unity Church.

Some AWFUL, unlawful invocations delivered locally by Christians:

4.15.14  Willie Spears, public high school football coach, for the ECSB.  OK except: "I pray that when people see the seal of the ECSB, they think of Jesus the Christ"

BOCC.  Lay leader calls for prophetic disaster on Pensacola in rambling speech:

BOCC.  Over-the-top preacher feels the Spirit, leads Lord's Prayer.  He was recently invited back and prayer again.

Olive Baptist minister calls for "Biblical Righteousness" on night of domestic partnership discussion before City Council.