Miami-Dade Commission Votes to Inject Religion Into Government Meetings

At a time when city councils are getting sued (and losing) left and right over prayers that occur during their meetings, the Miami-Dade Commission in Florida has done something astonishing: They voted yesterday to get rid of their moment of silence and reinstitute a prayer:

On Tuesday, an intensive 18-month lobbying effort by the Christian Family Coalition paid off when commissioners voted 8-3 after lengthy debate to reinstitute prayer before public meetings for the first time since 2004.

Those prayers, according to the new ordinance, must be non-denominational and be offered before the meeting officially begins, with commissioners choosing the speaker ahead of time on a rotating basis. If a commissioner wishes, he or she may offer the prayer.

Anthony Verdugo, executive director of the Christian Family Coalition, praised the County Commission for “moving into the 21st century,” and said the vote ended “8½ years of discrimination.”

My jaw is on the floor.

To Verdugo, it’s anti-Christian discrimination to only have a moment of silence and not pay vocal homage to the Christian God (because we all know they’re not supporting Allah) at a government meeting.

The Pledge of Allegiance they say immediately after the moment-of-silence-turned-vocal-prayer doesn’t make a damn bit of difference to him, either.

Overly Attached Anthony Verdugo

The ACLU of Florida plans to see how “non-denominational” these prayers truly are (PDF) before filing any sort of lawsuit. But they’re watching very carefully:

If prayers are sectarian in nature, the County will be sued; courts have reaffirmed that a sectarian prayer program affiliating the government with one faith is not permissible. That means that as soon as some prayer-giver says ‘Let us stand and bow our heads and pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior,’ which I presume is what proponents want, the Commission is likely to be sued.

“Even if the prayers are offered by a randomly chosen group of prayer-givers but the practice (in the words of a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling this past May) “conveys to a reasonable objective observer” the affiliation of the Commission or its endorsement of a particular religion — that will “violate the clear command of the Establishment Clause” and the Commission will be sued.

“If Commissioners censor the prayers or instruct a prayer-giver, so that the prayer is blandly ‘nonsectarian’ — the Commission could be sued for censorship of religious speech or establishing a ‘civic religion.’

“If someone is excluded from being considered eligible to deliver an invocation to solemnize a Commission meeting (which is how the Ordinance describes its purpose) because they are not a leader of a religious congregation appearing in the telephone book, but a respected non-religious leader of our community, the Commission could be sued.

“This is a no-win situation — it is not merely that the Moment of Silence is respectful of the diversity of our community, a community with ‘a wide constellation of religious beliefs and non-beliefs,’ the Moment of Silence protects the Commission from legal liability.

There’s no word yet on whether any Humanists will get to deliver an invocation.

Here’s the difference between atheists and conservative Christians when it comes to government fights like this. Atheists fight for inclusion and equality; we don’t want any one belief about God to take precedence over all others, so we maintain that a good government is a secular government, where religion is a private matter. You will never see an atheist group push for a city council to say before any meeting that we are a “nation under no god.”

Conservative Christians fight only for themselves. They want prayer in government, non-Christians be damned. Their warped sense of history tells them this is a Christian Nation so they think it’s only right that their beliefs (and only their beliefs) get promoted at government events. They are simply unable to pray in private. They have to shout it out loud for the same reason they feel obligated to TYPE IN ALL CAPS online. They have no regard for anyone but themselves and they believe the more public their worship is, the more correct they must be.

Meanwhile, moderate Christians who know the Commission is wrong to include a formal prayer at meetings remain silent. They don’t want to stir the pot because they don’t want to piss off any Christians. It’s the coward’s way out.

Residents of Miami-Dade need to vote the eight commissioners who voted for this measure out of office the next chance they get. I guarantee they’re about to be on the hook for the thousands of dollars in legal fees their elected representatives just threw away because they wanted to inject religion into their meetings.

(Thanks to Holly for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • more angry about the stadium

    Are we shocked the same Miami-Dade County Commission that spent $300+M on the Marlins new stadium would make another terrible decision?

  • Matto the Hun

    Yep, every time Christians can’t have their own way it’s discrimination.

  • Treathyl FOX

    I don’t know if this is true but I’ve heard it said that most politicians find religion quite useful.  Kind of like how I find leaving comments a useful place to place links.

  • Alessia Lane

    County Commission meetings here in Dania Beach (about 20 miles North of Miami, in Broward County) open up with a full-on prayer to “Lord God” and “Jesus Christ”. Nothing non-sectarian about it.  I was removed from one of the meetings for refusing to stand for the pledge and participate in the prayer. 

  • The Dread Pirate Rogers

    I like how they call it moving into the 21st century, instead of backsliding into the 19th century. Of course I’m sure they’d love us to move right into the  17th century and puritanical ideals.

  • jose

    This is for everybody who thinks if atheists are being fools suing schools about prayers and town hall about nativity scenes like religious invasion of public spaces is a petty, trivial issue.

    The truth is that religion always wants to creep into the public life, it always craves for control of public life, always has, and you will lose ground if you don’t actively defend your rights against religion. Keep your mouths shut, don’t challenge these transgressions in court, and you will see this same thing metastasized to every public institution.

  • BC Tess

    I just can’t wrap my head around the need for *any* prayer or moment of silence before starting  a meeting. It makes no sense to me at all…

  • Gideon

     “There’s no word yet on whether any Humanists will get to deliver an invocation.” Invocation of what? Prayer to what? I hope no Humanist does, even in protest, because that action reinforces the idea that Humanism is “just one more religion with prayers to ‘accommodate’ “.

    This is so unnecessary. If a few councilpersons wish to pray together BEFORE the meeting, then they can pray together privately BEFORE the meeting. (Of course, their stubbornness of praying on a microphone is exactly the type of ostentatious self-righteousness which their founder preaches against in their sacred book.)

  • C Peterson

    Unless you were disruptive, that sounds illegal. Effectively, you were disenfranchised because of your lack of religious beliefs. Consider contacting FFRF, the ACLU, or some other organization that might be willing to take legal action on your behalf.

  • C Peterson

    There are some fine humanist invocations, which are not prayers, ask no deities for anything, and affirm the supremacy of man over superstition. If a governmental organization is going to support prayer before their meetings, it seems to me good and proper that humanists should have the opportunity to counter that nonsense with a bit of reason.

  • Alessia Lane

    No I wasn’t being disruptive at all. Just sitting in my seat. 

  • Gringa

    And public tax money.  The article states that the original plan called for a database of prayer-givers that would have cost $26k

  • pagansister

    Disliked that city for a lot of reasons when I had no choice but to live there for 18 months.   Another reason has just been brought to light—-

  • Nope

    So do something real about it instead of just accepting it and complaining on the Internet.

  • YouHaveMoreThanTwoChoices

    So you are required to participate in a religious event before you can participate in your government. If you choose not to participate there are consequences, you have been singled out. If you choose not to participate you still have to watch, endure and suffer through a religious event. All prayer weather disgusted as a moment of silence or not has
    no place in government because it is discriminatory in nature. It is preferential treatment for a group of people and only serves to separate us.

    People can pray all they want on their own time. I find it extremely rude that they insist we watch them do it, or force us to participate in their religious practices. Just imagine the outrage they would have if for instance they were forced to use any religion but their

    I can not believe this forced observance and participation is legal.

    There should be federal laws prohibiting the practice of any religion on government time or property.

  • PA_Year_of_the_Bible

    Also, look in the dictionary and see that one definition of prayer is a “fervent wish”.  Atheists can wish for things to happen, so atheists can deliver prayers.

  • Blacksheep

    I believe that there probably are fine humanist invocations. But if it “affirms the supremacy of man over superstition” then it’s a thinly veiled insult against religion. I’m sure that there are invocations that stand on their own, without the need to include “…and we’re better than believers.”
    Christian invocations call on God for guidance, they don’t add, “And thank you that we are not unbelievers who have no faith.”
    I agree that any invocation should not favor one religion over another, which would be unconstitutional. 

  • Blacksheep

    If one believes in God, then it makes sense to include him in important matters where guidance is needed. If one does not believe in God it would make no sense at all, totally agree.

  • C Peterson

    Most humanists are secular humanists, and reject religion and superstition. To make that assertion is no more an “insult” to religion than a religious prayer is an “insult” to secular humanists. An important aspect of humanism is the supremacy of man over superstition, and that’s something worth emphasizing in any public invocation.

    It’s not an insult just because many in the audience might disagree.

  • rlrose63

    It’s easier to control people who are in fear for their very afterlives, so yes, politicians (and rulers before them) find religion quite useful.

  • Cincinatheist

    There are federal laws against such things. It is called the constitution.

  • YouHaveMoreThanTwoChoices

    What laws are these?
    Why are they not enforced?

  • Librepensadora

    Sidelight on language:  The lawyer’s surname, Verdugo, is the Spanish word for EXECUTIONER.

  • Blacksheep

    I would agree, if a religious prayer were to add a part about the “supremacy of religion over unbelief.”  

  • John

     If one believes in an omniscient, omnipresent god who knows everyone’s thoughts, one would think there would be no need to verbally “include” said god.

  • Dan

     Guidance? You are going to rely on an invisible friend for guidance on public matters?

  • Dan

     Might be hard to find someone to corroborate her story.

  • C Peterson

    Most prayers do just that.

  • Dan

    Because Atheist have a hard time getting elected and criticism of religion has somehow been labeled taboo.  Open discussion on religion would be the death knell for religion, as in Bill Maher’s Religulous.  Show that to primary school kids (ok, take out the sex and drugs), but leave the rest, have the kids discuss it, do research papers, power-points comparing religions, I mean really delve into it from K-12, on the level of math, english lit, or science, and its over.

  • Dan

     Let’s not play games here, you know as well as I do that Florida, that penis-shaped protrusion under the bible belt, isn’t suggesting prayer is anything like fervently wishing to win the lottery. Get real and stop clinging to semanticts.  They are public servents, serving a diverse community, and by not praying it is not saying God doesn’t exist, it means you are at work and have a job to do, do it.

  • Pedro Lemos

    But if you believe in God, isn´t he already included in all your matters, important or not, seeing that he is omnipresent and all?

  • RobertoTheChi

    Please contact FFRF or the ACLU about what happened.

  • RobertoTheChi

    Disagreeing with religion is viewed as an insult. Christian privilege…

  • Sven2547

    I wonder if these council members pray every time they tie their shoes, start their cars, or enter a supermarket.

  • YouHaveMoreThanTwoChoices

    Yes I agree religion can not stand up to facts but this conversation is about another subject.

    Do we need signs like “This is a drug free zone” ? ” OR  “This is a myth free zone” ? Theses people are bullies, Their  gang affiliation should be checked at the door of any all inclusive entity, especially any government institution. The government is for “We The People” not the people of a particular religion or ONLY religious people.  This action is mean cruel and hateful, this discriminatory praying and preying is wrong. 

    I would say leave the religion at home like you would porn. Keep it away from children until they turn 21. To me it is child abuse.

  • C Peterson

    Not likely to be necessary. Too many people would have to lie to contradict her story, and that just doesn’t generally happen in court.

  • Mario Strada

    Do it again, but this time have a cohort videotaping the event. Best if he or she wears the phone in a shirt pocket with a hole for the camera an participates in the pledge and prayer.

    Then sue.

  • Patterrssonn

    I wonder if they pray before sex.

    ‘Dear Lord please bless us with a happy ending’

  • Edmond

    Why they hell do they need to vote on what they can do BEFORE the meeting?  If any of them want to pray BEFORE the meeting starts, then go do it!  Pray in your office, pray in your car, pray in your damned HEAD!  Once you congregate in the council chambers, then begin conducting city business!  If some of these council members want to pray TOGETHER, there’s no need to VOTE on what the ENTIRE council must do.  NO vote should be able to cover what they do before meetings start and they’re on their own time.  If I were a member of this council, I would simply SKIP the prayer, and show up afterward at the start of BUSINESS (well, I would oppose this action in MANY ways, but that would be one).  What I do BEFORE meetings would be MY business, and NO ONE may vote on it.

  • Bubba Tarandfeathered

    They must watch Fox news reporting  on the Middle East and totally miss how religion in government is totally messing things up there. They must think to them selves, “Well they are Muslims, we’re not Muslims, we’re christians and that won’t happen to us.”

  • Alessia Lane

     Firstly, I wasn’t “complaining on the internet”. Secondly, it happened so long ago that it really is a moot point by now.  Thirdly, I usually pick my battles and at the time, I probably felt there were more important church/state issues to be dealt with than a prayer in some dinky town in the middle of South Florida.  And lastly, thanks for reminding me why I generally steer clear from commenting and/or the atheist community in general.  Some you are some cranky f*cks.

  • Cole

    I thought the “moment of silence” was also meant to honor our troops and fallen heroes. Getting rid of that would disrespect the military and America as a whole. Especially the America that is “entitled” to them, or so they speak.

  • Sandy Kokch

    The problem with the law and these cases as is, despite the fact that they are right and proper legal actions, is that the persons who made the decision get to hide behind the “body corporate” who use taxpayer money to defend themselves and then pay out the inevitable damages once the case is lost.

    The resolution to these 1st Amendment cases is simple – change the legal liability.

    You need to make the people who make these bad decisions – blatantly unconstitutional decisions in fact – jointly and personally responsible for any and all costs that are accrued as a result of the decision. Comittee members, be they on a school board, council, or local authority, should be made to sign a legal agreement on taking up the post that it is they who are personally responsible for costs associated with cases that involve 1st Amendment abuses they cause through decisions they make and policies they implement.

    So, for example, the legal costs and damages (that totaled over 1M dollars) in the famous Kitzmiller case should have been taken directly from the pockets of the school board members who voted in the ID friendly policy. Ditto the costs for the Ahlquhist case – the members of the school board who voted to keep the prayer on the wall get to pay the court costs and fines out of their own wallets. You could throw in the local authority’s legal adviser on the liability list for giving them such bad advice.

    Do that, set the precedent, and see how many more times decisions like this are made.

    IMHO Im certain as can be there would be a mere handful, if that. Cos when it comes to paying for stupidity and illegality, when the taxpayer pays the bills these idiots never learn, but when its their own bank accounts that suffer that lesson will never be forgotten.

  • Blacksheep

    No, not an “invisible friend”, but on God, yes.

  • Blacksheep

    No they don’t.

  • Corey

    “Christian Family Coalition”… pays to have a lot of money basically when it comes to politics

  • Isilzha

    There is no god. 

    What right do you have to inflict your idea of god on other people in a public meeting for government business?

    If you feel the need to pray why can’t you do it 5 minutes before you walk into the meeting room?  Why do you need your prayers validated by standing up and making everyone watch you do it?  Also, if you’re an xian, didn’t your bible say something about not making a show of yourself when you pray and to do it in private?

  • Isilzha

    What are you going on about??

  • Treathyl FOX

    I’m probably generalizing but I think any politician who seriously believes in prayer and prays – prays in his or her closet cause it’s a private one-on-one call and response; though the prayer content may pertain to matters that impact the public.  Thanks for responding back to me.  I get tired of talking to myself.