Prayer, Plain and Simple

Prayer, Plain and Simple

Florida Atheists Sue to Silence Prayers at Lakeland City Meetings

posted by Mark Herringshaw

A Central Florida atheist group filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Lakeland this week in an attempt to stop prayers at the opening of city commission meetings. The Atheists of Florida are particularly outraged by the regular use of the name “Jesus Christ” in the prayers.  One meeting on April 5th this year turned heated after one citizen present at the meeting got into a yelling match with atheists who were attempting to voice objections during the prayer. Commissioners had to recess the meeting.

Courts historically have ruled that invocations at meetings of government bodies are constitutional. Lakeland’s policy in particular was validated by the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. The courts stipulation has been that governments like Lakeland make a reasonable effort to incorporate all religious faiths. The Atheists of Florida argue that Lakeland is not following these guidelines. Their lawsuit contends that the city’s prayer practices violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. They also complain that they were made to feel uncomfortable for not standing during the invocation and for omitting “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Once again the confusion arises: “Separation of church and state” is not intended to be “separation of faith and state.” The Founders original intent was clearly to protect the liberty of religious faith and conscious from a state-mandated faith, such as Europe practices. Their fear was to protect faith from governmental power, never to lock faith out of government.

The Truth stands: Prayer is our admittance that we are and always will be dependent on God both individually and corporately. How we embrace this “self evident” truth and how we express it in our individual faith is a matter of personal liberty, not to be prescribed by government. But the freedom of any individual or collection of individuals who’s will is expressed in a governmental body must never be suppressed and denied. We have the freedom to pray, personally and publically, as individuals and as a community. Let religious freedom reign!

“God, we again acknowledge our dependence on you, as individuals, families, communities, and a nation. We pray that you will give us wisdom and courage to preserve the freedom we have in this country to express our faith as our conscience deems. We acknowledge the historical roots in our nation anchoring us to a Judeo-Christian essence. We do not exclude other faiths; but we do embrace our foundation. We ask for your blessing on this nation. We ask that all sectors of our society would bless you in return: business, family, education, media, arts, religion, business, and government. We commit ourselves to you fully and finally! Come and lead and guide us…. In Jesus…”

  • trichotomy

    This report contains factual errors. Here are three:
    1) The man who was yelling at atheists physically approached the commission when it was someone else’s turn to speak. The city manager called Lakeland police officers to the council chambers as a precaution at this time. This was reported in the Lakeland Ledger and his faith-based disruption can be watched on the video record.
    2) The meeting was recessed because Mayor Fields refused to hear John Kieffer during public comments. There was no “yelling match” involved. Kieffer introduced himself as a life member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Mayor Gow Fields interrupted by banging the gavel and calling a recess. The Lakeland Ledger later ran an editorial regretting their earlier endorsement of him during the January, 2010, election campaign.
    3) Lakeland’s policy as actually practiced is in violation of the ruling of the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. The facts will demonstrate this, which is why judicial review with the power to take sworn testimony under the penalty of perjury is needed.
    One thing in this rather heavily biased opinion piece is right: We do have the freedom to pray, personally and publicly, as individuals and as voluntary religious communities. No politician should have the power to ABUSE the levers of government in a way the promotes any religious sect or variety of religions over others. Access to city hall is a civil right, and no local government can be owned by religious mobs or bullies to use as they see fit to promote their beliefs while disparaging others.
    The atheists only want full and free EQUAL ACCESS to their own city government. How dare any religious apologists make excuses for the bullying tactics of any abusive majority!

  • hlvanburen

    There is a simple test that can be conducted here. If those who are so adamant that prayers must be uttered before the meeting will stand respectfully, in silence, while a citizen of the community who happens to be Muslim or Wiccan leads prayers in according with their beliefs and traditions. If they are truly willing to do that then their position is believable.
    I’m willing to bet a year’s salary that the first time this kind of prayer was offered there would be open revolt.

  • kenneth

    That’s the crux of it, hlvanburen. The overwhelming majority of these folks have NO interest in cultivating a generic “faith friendly” atmosphere. They are interested in asserting absolute control of the public spaces and in sending a very clear message that their stripe of Christians are the only ones who have standing as “real Americans” in law and culture. In many cases, they have happily given into the ACLU and ended public prayer when faced with the prospect of allowing non-Christians into the mix.

  • Melody

    This proves how ignorant humans can be. Why such controversy about Jesus? The basic teachings of Jesus is very simple: love each other and take care of each other. Respect each others ideas, opinions, boundaries but stay true to yourself. Realize each of us are an individual and that’s the beauty of it all. Even atheists can learn new things, if they would be open-minded, as we all need to be, and realize that, maybe, their way is not the right way, always. RESPECT is the key here. No law suit is necessary and it wastes the courts time when they could be ruling on important items. Unfortunately, in this country, freedom of religion also allows people to worship the devil and this is scary because the devil is all about killing, stealing, lying, etc. and because of this constitutional “right” people can use this to justify their evil actions and behavior. This is sad.

  • Your Name

    SO GLAD that the first 3 commentors had factual, well thought out and well written arguments to our biased author friend. As for the last post…who said anything about worshipping the devil? Way to leap from atheist to satan. You are sad.

  • Larry

    Understand, that in spite of what President Oboma has said, this is still a Christian Nation. Christians, want to honor God and acknowledge his guidance. When you insist that the time honored traditions of this country be forestalled because of some other belief, you are destroying the unity of the country. In spite of your negative feelings about prayer, your negative actions speak volumnes of your intent. If you opened the meeting without any acknowledgement of God, should the Christians rise up and complain? Christians usually will not, because the religion promotes love and compassion for everyone. Can you say the same about atheism?

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