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

Friday, January 23, 2015

VIDEO: Rabbi's Prayer at ECSB and James Nims Can't Hear

Rabbi Fleekop's Prayer.  I thought it was good.  Certainly more inclusive and less sectarian than most.  I'm just sorry Bergosh didn't tell him why he was invited.

James Nims ECSB, public forum regular, can't hear - the prayer or the buzzer.

EMAIL to ECSB Attorney: "FFRF Page, King James Bible Chapter:Verse"

SENT TONIGHT.  Copied to all SB members.  I will not get a response.  In 6 months, I've had no substantive responses.

Ms Waters, 
At September's meeting (when you suggested I bring alternative prayers to the public forum), you said you could not find the FFRF webpage about School Board prayer.  Here it that link:  
I might also remind your that the school boards are not included in the Galloway v Greece decision.  That decision OK'd only legislative council prayer, in part because "a minister or layperson of any persuasion, including an atheist, could give the invocation".  The ECSB doesn't practice that last part.
If the board needs a higher authority, I suggest Matthew 6:5-6: "And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly."
I still await your answer to when the meeting actually starts (before or after the Call to Order).  It's a very simple question.
Likewise, I await a written policy that does not allow religious censorship, as your current discretionary procedures do.
Best Regards, 
David Suhor

REMOVED: Jeff Bergosh Won't Answer, Post Replies or Tell the Truth; but He Will Pray for Me

JEFF BERGOSH'S BLOG RESPONSE:  (this post has since been removed)

I'm praying for you Dave, because I think you are lost. I'm not going to debate you here or anywhere else. We simply have fundamental disagreement on the one issue you are interested in, the one that has been settled in court via numerous SCOTUS rulings that support what we're doing and how we're doing it. We've been diverse, you know that, I thought that was what you were after- but that was never really what you were after, nope. You want it to be about you and making a splash in the media and drawing attention to yourself. I'm not contributing to that anymore. As I said, I'm praying for you, not because I'm some sort of "Super Christian" I know I'm not, just a sinner who falls short all the time. I'm praying for you because you are lost.

MY RESPONSE (probably won't be published on his blog)

Yes, I know you won't publish or answer such contradictory comments.

Pray all you want Jeff... on your own time.  I support that right.  But don't lie and say you welcome diversity - with ECSB's first ever (unwittingly token) non-Christian prayer... only after being called out for discrimination.  Don't say I present loud interruptions when I never have.  Don't say what you are doing is legal when no SCOTUS decision has ever supported SCHOOL BOARD prayer.  And don't call someone's prayer vitriolic garbage when you won't even hear it - despite imposing your prayers on people there for a business meeting.

What you can do is create a written policy to make it clear how that discrimination and exclusion are not part of the process.  You can embrace the prayer, instead of saying it occurs before the meeting, so it's OK... but my prayers are not.  neither of these will satisfy me.  You need to drop it.

This not about attention to me.  Who would want this kind?  It's about attention to the illegal state-church entanglement practiced by the ECSB and their censorship of unwanted minorities.  You have no idea how many people get upset because they are subjected to prayer at public meetings.  Your eyes are literally closed, so you don't see.  They often tell me.  And they don't keep attending.

I find it interesting that you impose acceptable styles of prayer on the meetings, yet you want to suppress others.  If you don't want me to pray my way, quit asking me to pray your way.  Have a moment of silence for everyone to pray their own way.  Or find something appropriate and secular, as was done in November and December.

Meantime, go read Matthew 6:5-6 and see what it advises.  If you can't follow civil law, at least respect His command.

Friendly Atheist Covers ECSB

Sadly, the story missed a few important details and reiterated some lies told by the other side.  First, this all occurs BEFORE the meeting begins.  That's done for legal cover.  I was not loud or disruptive or next to the dais.  That assertion comes from Jeff Bergosh himself - who hates that I don't follow the script at prayer time.  My chant is more like a low mumble.  In fact, the board chair herself said the invocation was BEFORE the call to order, so I was free to walk and talk at this time... though it would be "rude".  So what if I pray aloud while they do the same?  That's my right.  I've been doing this for months without any official admonition.  This only became a problem because I offered an "offensive" alternate prayer during the public forum.

One more thing.  I couldn't care less if the audience recites the Lord's Prayer when I speak.  In fact, I've been waiting for this reaction.  Like sheep, they bayed on cue.  Next time, they will be louder and more disruptive!  As much as I hate to say it, that's what is needed.  The ECSB will not act unless this issue becomes too big for them to ignore.  I've tried every proper channel I know to get them to offer a written policy and start accepting any of the multiple invocation offers they've received from minorities.  They prefer to make excuses (pre-meeting, so it's not official), flout the law (no federal appeals court has supported SB prayer) and practice discrimination (the rabbi was the first non-Christian prayer-giver EVER).  Now they want to suppress my individual freedom - to pray, in my own way, during the time they prescribe for such activity.  Good luck with that violation of civil rights.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

VIDEO: ECSB's Jeff Bergosh Wants to Invite a (token) Minority Religion

From September, 2014.  This is the last time the ECSB discussed invocations.  Watch the whole thing, but notice how Jeff Bergosh (at this point) wants to invite a religious minority just to cover his ass.  This month, he chose a Jewish person over requests pending.  Only he didn't tell the rabbi he was there 'for diversity'.  So I did.

Honestly, I respect Jeff for standing up for his convictions of Christian dominion, even though he is wrong to use his position for this purpose.  At least he's willing to say what other board member's won't.  I wish he and I could sit down and talk it out so he would understand how it feels from a religious minority's viewpoint.

Also, Jeff (and all ECSB) needs to hear about the law from someone other than their sycophantic attorney.  Poor thing.  She cannot justify the executive decision she has to defend.  I suspect she'd lose her job if she told them they need to drop it.  I really feel for her position, but she needs to tell the board the truth.  Their position is indefensible.

REMOVED! ECSB's Bergosh Whines About Free Speech, Free Religious Expression; MY RESPONSE TOO

from his blog, since removed:

Dealing Appropriately with Speakers That Violate Board Policy...

Should a member of the audience be able to usurp our meetings,  utilizing antics and shenanigans that are disruptive, divisive, and antagonistic?

…..I think not, and it is for that reason that I’m astonished by what transpired and what was allowed to occur at last night’s school board meeting.  I spoke to the board’s attorney, secretary, and to the superintendent of schools about what was coming.  This was not a surprise, yet it still was allowed to occur.  Astonishing…..

Because it was my turn in the rotation to select a guest to bring the pre-meeting prayer, I selected a Rabbi from Pensacola’s Temple Beth-El.  Rabbi Joel Fleecop was delivering a very respectful prayer to those of us assembled for the meeting, and he was rudely interrupted by a member of the audience who began chanting and praying loudly on a rug right next to the podium.

A member of the audience that spoke subsequently chastised the Chair for not stopping this loud and distracting stunt; the speaker said that because of the chanting, he could not hear the Rabbi’s prayer.

Nothing was done to stop this chanting, which was the first disappointment of the night.

Later, when this individual who had interrupted the invited Rabbi had his three minutes to speak, he came right out and started insulting me and my invited guest, deridingly referring to the Rabbi with an anti-Semitic barb, calling him a “Token-Jew”

nothing was done to derail this man and his ad hominem attacks.  

When this member of the audience insulted me, insinuating that I “used” my guest as a prop, I maintained my bearing, fully expecting some leadership from the dais and the chair to shut down this personal attack against me. 

Didn’t happen.

We have a rule against addressing board members other than the Chair, and this infraction was not addressed.

We also have a rule against personal attacks, which also went unenforced.  

A total loss of control.  

Very disappointing.  

It is one thing for this individual that loves disrupting our meetings to try to push the envelope—I half expect him to do so.

The big disappointment is that he was allowed to do so in blatant contravention to board rules of decorum-----that I did not expect.

So when this person got finished insulting me, my guest, and then he decided to start reciting a satanic prayer, I walked right out on him, right out of the room.  I wasn’tgoing to listen to a minute, not a nano-second more of this guy’s vitriolic garbage, and I won’t in the future either if he is going to blatantly walk all over our rules unabashed.

Additionally, I will not sit silently if this individual comes to our meeting and tries these sorts of stunts again and is not restrained.  Out of deference to the Chair and the rules of the board, I was silent through this blatant violation of the rules.  I won’t be next time.
I’m not indulging this disruptive person, and I never will.
The issues that transpired last night will be a subject I put on the agenda for an upcoming workshop so that, hopefully, we won't let things get out of hand at future meetings.

MY RESPONSE (too long for his blog, but I emailed it to him):

As the speaker in question, I look forward to your next meeting, when I can address your concerns head on.  
Meantime, keep a few things in mind:

1) Legally, you may not inhibit the free expression of religion, even if you disagree with it.  Your attorney said as much at an earlier meeting.  This is basic Constitutional law.
2) The meeting doesn't actually start until after the invocation and public comments.  You set it up this way so the invocation wouldn't 'officially' be part of the meeting.  Months ago, your chair agreed that I may walk and talk during this time, though it might be rude.  I've asked your attorney to clarify this.  She will not.  As far as I can see, like the school bell, no gavel means no need to be silent.
3) By the common definition**(below) and by your own email comments, the term 'token jew' was perfectly appropriate.  If it disparaged anything, it was your reason for bringing the rabbi... as a token.  From your email:  "Tonight we will have a guest bring the pre-meeting prayer that is not of the Christian faith, he is a Jewish Rabbi and a great person. WE ARE DOING THIS TO BE INCLUSIVE AND DIVERSE."  You brought the token, so you are responsible.  I simply defined it correctly - not as a slur, but an impactful statement of truth.  If you wanted diversity, you should have accepted any of several non-Biblical invocation speakers who have offered, but will get no audience as long as school board members have discretion to refuse us.
4) The good rabbi and I spoke later.  He was not offended, except perhaps that he was chosen while and other religious minorities were rejected.  I asked that you make him aware of the reason for his presence.  You did not.  Now he knows.
5) My chanting was relatively quiet - just above a whisper and just enough so I didn't have to hear the prayer.  You didn't hear it and the complainer couldn't hear it well enough to understand it.  I was not 'next to the dais', right in front of the audience.  If you don't want me to pray during this time, quit imposing your prayer and I will sit in silence.  Likewise, if you don't want an alternative prayer during the public comments, don't force your prayer on the audience.  Just do it on your own time.  Even Jesus said not to make a public display of prayer (Matthew 6:5-6).
6) At the September meeting about this subject, your attorney suggested I bring minority invocations during the public forum.  I have accepted her invitation and I will offer their a variety of prayers until you stop asking the audience to pray at a public meeting until it stops.  Such called to prayer are not legal or appropriate - especially for a school system.
7) The only inappropriate speech was when the audience recited the Lord's Prayer during my public forum comments.  At that point, the chair should have paused the timer and settled the audience so I could continue.
8) If you had listened to prayer by the Satanic Temple, you would know it was not offensive or vitriolic in any way.  It called on many values common relative to education. Unless 'Hail Satan' or 'Luciferian' has become the Muhammed cartoon of America (verbotten), they are just words.  You should not have left the room.  That was immature as best.

You are getting into a lot of 1st amendment issues - not the least of which is your refusal to allow minority invocations from traditions you don't agree with.  This could become quite litigious.  Do you really want to spend school board funds suppressing religious equality and imposing your faith on school board meetings?  I hope not.  I would think twice about what free speech and which religious expression you allow and which you don't.  Further favoritism would be even more unconstitutional.  
I will continue to stand up for my rights.  So far, civil disobedience has not been necessary.  However, I will gladly take that step if needed.  No court would convict me for praying in my own way while a school board recites it's favorite kinds of prayer.  As I've said, I won't stand for my rights to be violated.  

Rather than fighting my free speech and religious expression, why not drop the provocation - invocation prayers?  Your student handbook spells out an inclusive policy (a moment of silence).  It's good enough for the schools, why not use it for the schools leaders?  

Rather than chastising me, A BETTER USE use of the school board's time would be a thorough discussion of the invocation - as a policy and a legal liability. After 6 months of asking, isn't time you put it in writing?  I hope the board will look beyond the yea-sayers and consider whether there is case law to support SCHOOL BOARD prayer.  SPOILER: There is not.  Galloway only applies to City/County/State government - NOT TO SCHOOL BOARDS.  And you don't honor Galloway anyway (by refusing minorities selectively).  Any independent attorney could tell you this.  Yet... some SB members continue the illegal and inappropriate mixing of church and state by imposing your approved prayers and rejecting unwanted prayer offers. That needs to change.

**According to Wikipedia, Tokenism is the policy and practice of making a perfunctory gesture towards the inclusion of members of minority groups. It is the effort of including a token intended to create the appearance of social inclusiveness and diversity and so deflect accusations of social discrimination.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

email exchange with Jeff Bergosh - ECSB



I feel certain your Rabbi friend - a minority believer like me - would not offer an invocation if aware that 1) it's illegal for a school board to lead the public or students prayer, and 2) he was chosen over other minorities who requested a chance to offer an invocation, but were refused for religious reasons.

I hope you've informed him that he is there for diversity, after ONLY Christian speakers were invited for YEARS. Also, he was invited only after this became an issue. Essentially, he is a token for others who are not welcome. I'm also certain that if his religion wasn't based on the Bible and shared by your savior, he would not be welcome. That's the boat I'm in. 

I'd love to speak to your Rabbi friend and explain these circumstances so he can speak with full knowledge of the situation. As a fellow religious minority and a learned man, I'm certain I could convince him inside 10 minutes that he should not participate. My number is below. Please ask him to call for my perspective.




Sure, you're about diversity EXCEPT when Humanists, Pagans or atheists ask to offer an invocation. Then you overlook their requests and seek out others whose religions aren't 'offensive' (ie, they pray to your God or they aren't a prayer).

If you were interested in diversity, you would accept the offers you've had FOR MONTHS. Better yet, you would not ask ANYONE to pray against their beliefs. A moment of silence of silence would also be inclusive and respect diversity. 

The last two months were an improvement as they did not hold up one form of prayer over others. Instead, the 'invocations' offered were relevant to the school system. I'm sorry you can't follow your board's own policies - regarding school prayer AND religious discrimination. 

Meantime, I simply ask for a clarification of your invocation policy. There is no written policy. Considering the legal peril you court with your current system, why is a written policy so hard to develop?

Best Regards, 


PS Have you told your (first ever) token Jew that he was chosen over Pagans, humanists and atheists who requested an invocation? I suggest you do, as I will be discussing his role in ECSB's religious discrimination. 



We are all about diversity in this district. Last month, we had the future farmers of America oath instead of a Christian prayer. The month before that, we had a story about geese, instead of a Christian prayer. Tonight we will have a guest bring the pre-meeting prayer that is not of the Christian faith, he is a Jewish Rabbi and a great person. We are doing this to be inclusive and diverse.

Dave, we are all about diversity in this district--don't you know that by now? If you don't, you should.
Jeff Bergosh
Escambia County School Board 
District 1 Board Representative


Ms Waters, et al, 
Can you please tell me if the school board has developed any kind of policy regarding invocations before ECSB meetings?  Since September, I've been asking the ECSB to clarify how you can continue the invocation without discriminating against religious minorities.  So far, no such policy has been published.  So far, several minorities have been refused an equal chance to pray before the board - myself included.
You might look to the Indian River (Florida) School District.  They recently voted in a policy which rotates between local faith groups.  The discussion is also informative.  Like the previous four court cases involving school board prayer, their policy will be ruled illegal.  However, it might help develop your policy, as well as codify it for the public and allow some public discussion.
Since this item is still listed on the agenda, I renew my request to deliver an invocation during the proper time.  But, as long as the invocation is set to continue, I will prepare an alternative invocation for non-Biblical faiths and non-believers.  Since none was offered at the last two meetings (thank you Ms Hightower, Mr Slayton for your restraint), I've offered no alternative. I hope this trend will continue.  Is this a chance in policy or simply wisdom exercised by some board member?  Again, no one knows.  Please inform us.
As ever, I remain available with a Pagan invocation reflecting my own beliefs, should such non-Biblical prayers be allowed - as Galloway v Greece says it must.  If this will never be granted, I would appreciate an official explanation as to why not.  I welcome your email, phone call or a personal meeting.
Best Regards, 
David Suhor
850 512-2220

Tonight's ECSB FULL Comments, Satanic Temple Invocation

Tonight, SB member Bergosh brought a Jewish rabbi - 'for diversity'.  Here were my comments afterward, in the public forum.  I had to skip some, so the context was lacking.  I don't believe in Satan.  Neither does the Satanic Temple.

When I got to the prayer, some in the audience said the Lord's Prayer aloud.  Never mind that Jesus told them not to make a show of prayer in public.  Jeff Bergosh left the room.  Bill Slayton stayed, but turned away.

When leaving the meeting, I spoke with rabbi.  He was not offended.  He didn't know about the controversy, though I asked Jeff Bergosh to ask him to call me so I could fill him in.  He said he would not take part in invocations in the future if other minority religions aren't offered the same opportunity.  Good for him.  Religious minorities know what it's like to be excluded.  


According to Wikipedia, Tokenism is the policy and practice of making a perfunctory gesture towards the inclusion of members of minority groups. It is the effort of including a token intended to create the appearance of social inclusiveness and diversity and so deflect accusations of social discrimination.
I’m ashamed today. I’m ashamed that the District 1 SB member chose to include a ‘token’ Jew – mind you, a religion sharing his God and holy book - instead of truly welcoming religious diversity. I have great respect for Judaism but I cannot understand why a rabbi would take part “for diversity”, as the SB member told me.  Meantime, ALL board members continue to refuse requests from pagans, humanists and atheists who have been waiting for 6 months or more. After years of ONLY Christian prayers and excluding others, you can understand why this effort seems disingenuous.
By now you know, your continuing (unwritten) policy of refusing invocations from non-Biblical religions is illegal – especially in a school context. It’s not only contrary the Supreme Court against ruling in Galloway – which says that you must include ANY person wanting to offer a blessing. That case doesn’t even apply here. The four courts that have taken up the SB prayer issue ALL say you should not be leading prayers AT ALL. I am ashamed that this body flouts the law and continues starting its meetings by asking people to pray against their conscience. That is not the job of ANY government body. But you do it anyway.
Before I get to today’s alternate invocation, I’d like to renew my request to offer a prayer of the Pagan variety. I’ve not yet been answered, but AT LEAST could this board spell out it’s policy? Give me ANY valid legal reason why my religion gets no official audience here, but others do. You’ve had 6 months to mull this over and there is still NO WRITTEN POLICY of any kind. Don’t you employ an attorney? Why can’t she answer?
FDR said “there is nothing to fear but fear itself”. I’ve been repeatedly accused of offering a ‘satanic’ invocation. I have not. But, I’ve learned even that is nothing to fear. The Satanic Temple does not believe their namesake is real. He is merely a symbol for those embracing curiosity, science and reason. I think this invocation – which the temple itself authored – will make that clear. And maybe you won’t fear religious minorities as much. If I am wrong, may God come down and punch me in the chest. Please pray with me:
“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.”