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

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?