Florida County Commissioners Discover That Religious Freedom Means Freedom for Everyone, Even Pagans

Religious-right activists celebrated when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this year, in a 5-4 decision, that beginning governmental meetings with sectarian prayers doesn’t violate the Constitution’s Establishment Clause.

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins declared: “The court has rejected the idea that as citizens we must check our faith at the entrance to the public square.”

Of course, citizens don’t have to “check their faith at the entrance to the public square.” Citizens have the right to practice their faith and to pray, or not, wherever they like. The issue is whether government may favor a particular religion (or religion generally) and whether offering sectarian prayers does that. The Supreme Court has now said such prayers are permissible.

Well, as you can see in the video clip above, last week an Agnostic Pagan Pantheist — David Suhor — decided to bring his particular beliefs into the regular meeting of the Escambia County Board of County Commissioners in Florida. But that didn’t go over too well with some of the Christians at the meeting. One commissioner walked out, offering this explanation:

“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.”

He certainly had a right to leave. So did state Sen. Dan Patrick, the current Republican nominee for Texas Lieutenant Governor, when he boycotted the invocation of a Muslim cleric at the beginning of the Texas Senate’s work day in 2007. But government — certainly in the United States — shouldn’t be in the business of picking and choosing whose religious beliefs to favor or disfavor.

Back in Florida, the Escambia County School Board has so far refused to allow Suhor to offer his prayer, in addition to the board’s traditional Christian invocation, at its meetings. Suhor, who said governing bodies should offer simply a moment of silence instead of prayers at their meetings, is considering litigation against the school board.

(H/T Addicting Info)

4 thoughts on “Florida County Commissioners Discover That Religious Freedom Means Freedom for Everyone, Even Pagans

  1. It goes even deeper, as most Christians in the US refuse to see that the first ten words of our First Amendment ensure our freedom FROM religion and only the next six ensure Americans the freedom to choose. I can only assume that they need some remedial education in simple English comprehension. Clearly the framers considered freedom from religion more important that “freedom of religion”, words that by the way do not specifically appear in the First Amendment.

  2. This is an example of the Religious Right’s folly coming home to roost. If the First Amendment and U.S. Supreme Court say it is okay to deliver these prayers at public meetings, then the governmental bodies who sponsor these prayers are required to give an equal opportunity for practitioners of every religion and religious belief system to pray their prayers as well. Failure to do so is a definitive violation of the First Amendment and it is a violation based exclusively on a religious bias. No federal court in this country and no federal judge—not even Scalia—could find a way out that passes by that slam dunk.

    This is what I have been trying to warn these Religious Right people about for years. The United States is no longer a sardine can filled with white people who immigrated here from foreign nations where the Christian religion was dominant. We have immigrants for everywhere now—and more coming every day—and many from exotic lands with very unusual religious practices that are nonChristian—as well as homegrown people who practice unusual religions. They are the firemen, policemen, school teachers, town mayors, school board members, etc. of the future. To make matters worse, they are highly educated and managerially talented people who are going to be wealthy and influential, and “rising up” in American culture—not just in New York City—but also in your local Texas community.

    This is why Thomas Jefferson wanted the First Amendment’s freedom of religion wording. If you give Joe Bates the right to teach, preach, and pray so-called “Bible-Believing” Christianity in the public school classroom, then you are equally obligated under federal law to give the same preaching, teaching, and praying rights rights to a Hindu, Moslem, Sikh, pagan, or Satanist school teacher in that same school room. There is no slick legal way around it, and Thomas Jefferson knew that. Thomas Jefferson was saying that the only way to keep the Hindu, Pagan, and Satanist teacher from preaching, teaching, and praying their religion in the public school classroom is to prevent EVERYONE from doing it. That was meant to PROTECT YOUR CHILDREN AND YOUR FAITH.

    Now, I brought this same point up with some people about 15 years ago here in Tennessee. Their response was this, “You know that Hindu school teacher you’re talking about? We got ways of dealing with her kind.” They meant wait until 3:00 a.m. when the family is all in bed, douse the home with gasoline, and set the place on fire. This is how East Tennessee Bible-believing Christians would deal with this problem—according to them. The only problem in Texas is that you—every damned one of you—have that needle waiting for your arm in Texas—and they love to use it on people who kill mommies, daddies, and children in burning houses.

    You people had better wake up and start worrying about where the Religious Right is taking you by trying to gut the First Amendment Thomas Jefferson put in place to protect you. You are not going to get a renewal of a mythical 19th century “Christian Nation.” What you are going to get is a Buddhist teaching her religion to your children in public schools and you no longer having legal recourse to stop it.

    1. This is why Thomas Jefferson wanted the First Amendment’s freedom of religion wording.

      TJ authored the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, but not the Bill of Rights. Rather, the primary author of the First Amendment was TJ’s political disciple James Madison (who also was the one who got the VSRF passed). TJ sent Madison a letter calling the lack of a bill of rights a serious omission from the Constitution (for which JM was again the primary architect), as did James Mason. Madison promptly introduced legislation to correct that oversight.

      Madison’s vision was also influenced by others, however. Madison’s version would have immediately incorporated the antiestablishmentarian requirement against the states immediately; instead, that had to wait until the 14th and later.

      Not that this bagatelle erodes your thesis all that much; but still, one of the big things TFN seems to push is accuracy in Social Studies standards.

      1. Thanks abb3W.

        I gave Jefferson the “root cause” credit because he was playing diplomat in Paris while the constitutional convention was underway in Philadelphia. His famous letter was the primary reason Madison said “oops” and did something about the First Amendment and the other 9 in the Bill of Rights. If not for Jefferson… Also, it was probably no secret among the upper echelon at that time how Jefferson felt about religious freedom and that he had passed those ideas along to others over the years. Sort of like CERTS breath mints, I think we are both right on this one.

        Of course, you know what the Religious Right would say: “The First Amendment is not about religions in general. This thing that Madison and Jefferson were doing was about denominations ONLY. They all wanted the nation to be “Christian Nation” (and no other religions), and the First Amendment was put in place solely to prevent one Christian denomination from getting a leg up on the other denominations.”

        I just wish someone—just one person—in the churches that support the Religious Right could understand how much their political leaders and pastors are lying to them—boldfaced lies—about the founding and meaning of the First Amendment. Lying. Lying. Lying. Deceiving. Deceiving. Deceiving.

        Instead, the congregation members sit at home and say:

        “He’s our preacher man. He’s been to preacher school. The 10 Commandments tell him that he must not lie, so there is no way he could be lying to us.”

        Some preachers are outright lying, and others have simply been deceived by Satan and are passing that deception on to their congregations out of sheer ignorance because they are in a hypnotic trance created by the POWER AND GLORY of the crooked Republican politicians who are using them for evil ends. When you sit in a church all day and do church work, it gets boring and frustrating after a while. The pay is often not very good. Many preachers have alternative day jobs. Then all of a sudden a fat cat Senator from Washington, D.C. is calling them up, asking for their opinion, and inviting them to spend a weekend with him playing golf, eating fine food, and living like the rich do—and he is part of it. What a welcome break from the poor pay, congregant Edna whose eyes are always full of tears because she cannot stop sinning with her boss on the side (the husband still does not know), little Freddie’s drug addiction, and all those depressing hospital visits, funerals, and marriages (marriages he knows from experience do not have a snowball’s chance in Hell of succeeding). Then he starts to thinking, “Maybe if I play ball with the Senator here and be really agreeable, maybe it is my ticket to a better life than just being pastor of a church—and maybe I could somehow make it seem like Jesus is part of it all—even if He is really not—just to keep up proper appearances and not shame myself too much. And with the idiots I have sitting in my pews, 90 percent of them will never notice that anything is different.”

        The lostness and blindness of these pastors and their congregations is hard to understand. However, that is the fundamental nature of spiritual blindness—the inability to see that something has gone terribly wrong when the truth is dangled right in front of their noses.