Lady Lake City Council Continues Prayers for Jesus

In Lady Lake, Florida, there’s another city council reciting another “pre-meeting” prayer. One atheist, Bill Calhoun, is rightfully complaining about it, but he may be alone in the fight:

Commissioner Paul Hannan questioned why Calhoun would even bring the issue up.

“It confuses me and others why you would want to burden Lady Lake taxpayers with this,” Hannan said.

“Just because you’re offended doesn’t mean you have the right,” said Pamela Dahl of Lady Lake, president of the Tri-County Tea Party, an organization for Lake, Sumter and Marion counties.

town attorney Derek Schroth defended the prayers, saying Lady Lake does not promote a particular religious belief, and a member from any group is allowed to offer an invocation. In fact, Sheldon Skurow, spiritual leader of Temple Shalom, a Sumter County-based synagogue, led the invocation at a March commission meeting.

“These kinds of prayers are permitted as long as you don’t exclude other faiths, which our town does not do,” said Schroth.

So they can name one token non-Christian group. Who’s to say all the other people delivering the invocation aren’t Christian?

In fact, the American Humanist Association noted the following:

… from May 2010 to January 2011, the town commission always got a member of the Christian clergy to conduct the prayer and that the minister always invoked the words “Jesus” or “Christ.”

Lady Lake is using the same tactics other cities have taken, saying the prayers before the start of the “official” meeting, thinking they can get away with something unconstitutional.

Schroth says the city isn’t promoting a particular religious belief — but just take a look at what was written in the same article:

Perhaps the biggest roar from the crowd came at the start of the meeting when H.G. Bevill, pastor of Lake Hermosa Church of God in Lady Lake, ended the invocation with “in the name of Lord Jesus Christ” loudly.

And that’s supposed to be a secular invocation that’s inclusive to all?

In a letter to the town, William Burgess, the [American Humanist Association's] legal coordinator, said the association was concerned that many Lady Lake Town Commission meetings open with prayers led by members of Christian-based places of worship, and that may be isolating attendees who have different beliefs.

Calhoun is looking at his options and weighing a lawsuit. I hope he goes through with it. The more lawsuits that are filed, the sooner these city councils will realize they’re supposed to be running a government and not a church.

  • Thorny

    well i hope he goes with a lawsuit but in the meantime if they are oen to all faiths then maybe it is time for an Atheist prayer or a FSM one as long as it’s fairly offensive

  • http://hewhothinksaloud.blogspot.com/ Emaj Cirtap

    I get sick of the defense, “We don’t promote a certain religion” especially when it invokes the name of a certain deity. Even when it doesn’t, it’s still promoting religion over non-religion.

  • http://www.tomfarrell.org The Other Tom

    These city councils don’t care that they’re supposed to be running a government and not a church, or they’re unable to discern the difference. It’s going to stay that way until we start holding the members personally responsible and making them pay out of their own personal bank accounts for the awards to the atheists who sue.

    After all, what do they have to lose as things are? They get to do as they please until the lawsuit goes to trial. Then if they win they get to continue doing as they please, and if they lose the city has to pay up on their behalf and they can use the occasion to make bigoted accusations at their opponent to drum up support for their re-election. Until we make them responsible for the consequences of their own actions, they have no incentive to behave.

  • http://blaghag.com Jennifurret

    This is where my parents live! Alerting them now.

  • Alex

    I don’t know about other states, but Florida seems to have a bunch of these public officials pulling this stuff and it’s hard for some of us to speak up since we have to contract work or projects through them.
    Florida even changed it’s motto from the “Sunshine State” to “In God We Trust” which requires you to take a quasi religious test when you apply for a vehicle tag since you need to state that you don’t want the “In God We Trust” tag to a clerk that wears a cross and has religious knick knacks displayed on their desk.

  • Marty Lewis

    I hope someone can connect Mr. Calhoun to the FFRF and the ACLU. They will certainly advise him

  • http://wonderfulpages.com/sawdust KirbyG

    I agree with Thorny.

    They need to get members of a local mosque and a local coven to apply to read prayers.

    I’m not sure that an atheist has standing to say “You shouldn’t do that”, but someone turned down on the basis of their beliefs would definitely have legal standing to make a strong claim.

    I’d *love* to read the council’s response letter to the mosque.

  • HamsterWheel

    Might be worth carefully researching the limits of how much noise someone is legally allowed to make when a city council meeting is not officially in session. Perhaps a kazoo or some other party-style noisemaker might be appropriate. Or maybe you could sample all the ringtones on your phone at full volume while they talk to their imaginary friend. My personal favorite would be the Monty Python Intermission song, it’s quite loud.

  • http://honesttogodless.blogspot.com Matt Foss

    Argh. I’m torn; part of me thinks he should fight the good fight and keep pressing the issue, encouraging other faith groups to ask for their turn, until the Christians on the council realize that the invocation is a huge waste of time when they have to invoke entities other than Jesus. If the (seemingly) lone atheist in the town of 14,000 doesn’t stand up to the nonsense, who will?

    And then part of me thinks that fighting this battle in such an insignificant venue is a waste of time and resources. The council members are emboldened by a state government that openly endorses religion, and the state is emboldened by a federal government that does the same. It’s a bit like fighting to have the “In God We Trust” engraving removed from the wall of a municipal courthouse when the real problem is that it’s our National Motto.

  • Ubi Dubium

    Considering that the town is named “Lady Lake”, I think we need some Celtic invocations to the “Lady of the Lake”. Preferably accompanied by a few k-nig-it’s with coconuts. It would be only fitting.

  • mb

    Calhoun should encourage the local wiccan or pagan community to come and ask to offer the invocation. That will shake things up.

  • http://leavingthequietroom.blogspot.com/ Joe Zamecki

    By the way, this isn’t an isolated issue. It happens all over the USA. The council’s tactic is all too common, but what I find is more common is that city councils usually don’t have to bother taking special steps like that, to keep the prayer. The reason is that in 99% of these cases, no one there complains.

    It’s also true that in several cases, when one person carefully complains, changes are made. Sometimes it only takes one well worded complaint. But for sure, these prayers rarely get removed from the schedule without some complaint.

    So complain! If this goes on in your city hall, do something about it. It’s one of the few types of widespread church/state violations that you can actually go and physically sit through, and then, shortly after that, arrange to speak at a microphone about, in complaint about it.

  • coyotenose

    KirbyG wrote,

    They need to get members of a local mosque and a local coven to apply to read prayers.

    I’ve chatted with the editor of a semi-conservative local paper in a North Carolina city with a council member grandstanding about adding prayer to government meetings. The paper, and the editor (even in private correspondence) offer no opinion on the matter (which of course means they oppose it, but don’t want to tick people off).

    When I suggested that I should “convert” to Satanism and deliver an invocation in the unlikely event that the council begins illegal prayers, the editor expressed support. He went so far as to suggest that they’d list me on the weekly Services page ^^.

  • Nakor

    ^ Sweet! XD

    I was actually just thinking, couldn’t Pastafarianism be used here? If they’re truly not discriminating based on faith, then they can’t reject someone based on being from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

    But Satanism and Wicca (or any of the other pagan alternatives) would both be better, since it’s more obviously discrimination (the FSM one would clearly be perceived as a joke) and they are more likely to be legally recognized as religions in a legal fight if it came to that.

  • Gus Snarp

    I’m with those who suggest getting a local Mosque to offer to perform the prayer. In fact, anyone you can get to conduct the prayer that is affiliated with a recognized religion should do so. Every meeting they should have a stack of letters from religious officials offering to conduct the prayer, especially Muslims, but also Buddhists, Wiccans, Bahai, Unitarians, and a non-religious invocation. Make the requests in writing, if there is no response, make the request during the official business of the town meeting. If you have a paper trail of them turning down a non-religious invocation, a Muslim invocation, whatever, then you’ve got a slam dunk lawsuit. I’m not entirely opposed to also doing offers from Satanists, Pastafarians, and Subgenii, but all of those are likely to be seen as jokes. Throw them in, but you’ll get better media if they’re rejecting something more palatable.

  • Mihangel apYrs

    “Oh great Satan, Lord of the world, grant us wisdom…….”

    Can’t see it happening somehow

  • Adam

    “Just because you’re offended doesn’t mean you have the right,” said Pamela Dahl of Lady Lake, president of the Tri-County Tea Party

    Hmmm… sounds like something I would say about the Tea Party! Maybe take your own advice Pamela?

  • Jeebus

    Delusional, superstitious, bigoted ass wipes. I wonder if they’ve had any muslim, scientolgist, jedi or hindu representatives give an “invocation”? We all know the answer to that question now, don’t we?

  • http://www.eurovisionamerica.com Michael (SQFreak)

    This case bears a striking resemblance to Joyner v. Forsyth County, No. 1:07-CV-243 (M.D.N.C. Jan. 28, 2010), in which a U.S. District Court judge ruled for the plaintiff-citizens. The County appealed to the Fourth Circuit, so we’ll see what they do. (The case was appealed, briefed, then temporarily put on hold because the plaintiff’s counsel went on maternity leave right as oral arguments were scheduled. They’ve been rescheduled for May, I believe.)

    The problem is that Judge Beaty relied on Fourth Circuit precedent in ruling for the plaintiffs, and the Eleventh Circuit, where Florida is, has much worse precedent for this type of case. In fact, plaintiff’s counsel at the oral argument in the Middle District said something like, “Opposing counsel wishes he were in the Eleventh Circuit, but he is not.” If the Fourth Circuit affirms and the Florida case goes to the Eleventh Circuit and rules for the City, we’ll have a pretty square circuit split that’s ripe for Supreme Court resolution. The question is if we really want that, given the current Supreme Court. I think the answer is to pick your battles and let this one lie, solely because it’s in the Eleventh Circuit.

  • Mary

    And then part of me thinks that fighting this battle in such an insignificant venue is a waste of time and resources. The council members are emboldened by a state government that openly endorses religion, and the state is emboldened by a federal government that does the same. It’s a bit like fighting to have the “In God We Trust” engraving removed from the wall of a municipal courthouse when the real problem is that it’s our National Motto.

    I don’t think it is insignificant. All of this crap is part of the systematic addition of religion in our everyday lives. First it’s a prayer at a senate meeting, then a national day of prayer, then states strip women of all reproductive autonomy and give money to churches. They have taken an inch and are pushing for a mile.


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