I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Handling Invocations at School Board Meetings: An Inclusive, Win-Win Solution?

So we have some really persistent individuals that really want to bring the invocation to our School Board meetings. They point to a recent Supreme Court case as their ammunition, supporting their cause and their right to bring non-Christian prayer to the meeting. Forget the fact that more than 80% of Americans are Christian. Forget the fact that in Escambia County Florida that percentage is much higher. Forget the fact that in our School Board meetings, it is more than likely nearly 100% of the attendees identifying as Christian. No matter, we’re told we must be inclusive. One of these persistent individuals came to the last meeting. (That’s him in the picture above turning his back on my guest who was in the process of bringing a very respectful opening invocation.)

 I’ve had several email requests and phone calls from various individuals that want me to select them to bring the invocation to the meeting on my behalf, as my guest. I had one super, hyper-persistent person who demanded I allow him to bring a Wiccan/pagan greeting. I told him No. (Under our current protocol, the selection of individuals for bringing the invocation rotates among the board every five months, corresponding with five board members.)

 At last Tuesday’s meeting, a speaker at public forum indicated that he was invited to bring the invocation by another board member, at an upcoming meeting. I have no idea what this person will say at his rendition of an invocation. I have no doubt he will be polite, but do I have to listen to someone politely refute my religious beliefs before a meeting of a board that is 100% Christian? What if this person wants to deliver a satanic prayer? Should the overwhelming majority of the attendees at these meetings really be subjected to this?

I say no.

 I am bringing an idea to the next workshop to allow us as a board to be inclusive, while at the same

time allowing attendees at our meetings, and members of the board, to “opt-out” of being proselytized to or disparaged by someone who believes Christianity is a made-up religion..I do not want to be subjected to their version of a prayer. I don’t want to be and I will not be a part of someone’s prank. I mean, what if a witch doctor wants to deliver a message? Will we really let that happen? I don’t want to hear that rubbish, and I’d suspect I’m not the only one who doesn’t want to hear it, either. Here’s my plan: When a board

member invites a non-Christian to come to the meeting to bring an alternative invocation, and after such individual is introduced and making his/her way up to the podium- I'll politely state that I am heading out the back-door, to say a private prayer outside of the room, and I'll invite any in attendance to join me. It might take just a moment. Then, after a minute or two, the guest can bring his/her officially sponsored, non-Christian, Buddhist, Klingon, or whatever invocation he wants to whomever is left in the room. 

Simultaneously, I'll deliver (or have someone else in the assembled outside group) a proper Christian prayer. I'll neither discriminate against the guest nor prevent his/her free expression of faith. I will expect the same courtesy from our guest. Then, after a couple of minutes, I'll come back into the room (along with anyone else who joined me). We'll then do the pledge, and carry on with the meeting! A win-win solution, wouldn't you say?


Andy said...

Wow. Did you read over what you wrote? Your post here is exactly why there should be NO prayers before a public governmental function. "I do not want to be subjected to their version of a prayer." People of other (or no) faiths don't really want to be subjected to yours. " I have to listen to someone politely refute my religious beliefs before a meeting of a board that is 100% Christian?" And yet you think it is okay to subject community members of other faiths to prayer that refutes their beliefs?

Your clever little scheme to show those heathens who's boss just makes you look like a childish ass. If your faith is so shaky that you can't handle the faith of someone else, you might need to re-exam whether or not you really do believe what you claim you do.

The solution is simple- ditch the prayer. You are there to do the people's work (have a meeting), not the work of whatever your version of christianity happens to be.

(And ss for the first paragraph of your post, you really double down on your ignorance of how our Republic works- you don't get to, as an organ of the State, establish a religion. You do not get to show preference to one religion or another, or privilege "religion" over "no religion." It doesn't matter if 99.44% of your community is christian, you don't have the right to be exclusionary. You're heading down the delightful path of "getting sued by the FFRF")

Anonymous said...

Pray to Klingon gods? Please education yourself:

Also, Pagan and Wiccan are NOT interchangeable. Stop fear-mongering by throwing labels that you don't understand! Shame on you.

Anonymous said...

You say 80% of people are Christian in the country? That means 20% are not. This means that over 62 million U.S. citizens don't get a voice, because they didn't choose your religion. I guess those people don't count. It is very likely that there are people in the meetings who aren't Christian. A lot of people won't speak up, because of people like you, who look down on anyone not of the same religion. Why would anyone want to open themselves up to your discrimination? As a government employee, it is your duty to remain unbiased regarding religion, while performing your job.

treedweller said...

Since you plan to meet outside for your christian orayer, why cant you do that fifteen minutes before the meeting, thereby ending this waste of everyone's time?

But, assuming you do as you promise here, I hope you dont expect someone to come out back and tell you when the meeting is resumed, or that the meeting will wait for you. Certainly, all these years we non-Christians have been told to leave if we dont like it, nobody was waiting to make sure we were back in the room before starting business.

Jeff Bergosh said...

Andy, people like you who want to impose your version of a religion upon groups of individuals who overwhelmingly believe differently than you, simply to "spike the ball" in our faces to make a point, people like you are the real childish asses. We follow the law we're in compliance and we'll remain in compliance. My plan respects your ability, that should be good enough for you, even if you end up giving your version of an invocation to an empty room.

Jennifer said...

Read the establishment clause of the Constitution. You are NOT in compliance when you allow one religion a soapbox and are less than welcoming to others. The manner or popularity of the religion does not matter. You are clearly favoring Christians. You got one thing right part: "people like you who want to impose your version of a religion upon groups of individuals...are the real childish asses."

BTW, you got some nice press:

skinnercitycyclist said...

A member of a schoolboard who does not understand the first amendment to the constitution. Color me surprised.

I teach learning center social studies, perhaps Mr Bergosh would care to attend my Basic US Government class? I will be sure to seat him up front so he doesn't miss anything.

Anonymous said...
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Jeff Bergosh said...

Jennifer and others-here's the thing; I must be on to something to have you all so spun up. But getting past your anger and frustration, what is your problem with, while someone like you delivers an invocation however you want to deliver it, what's wrong if the majority, some, any, or one of the rest of us excuse ourselves to have our own invocation? Think deeply on that...Nobody is saying you can't, and as a matter of fact my plan actually makes it a win for everyone. I think you don't like it because it potentially takes away your ability to conscript a captive audience. But here's the real important point. It would not be in violation of any laws and I think that's what really frustrates you.

Anonymous said...

I have so many concerns over your statements I'm not sure where to begin. First you have the complete breakdown of logic in your first statement - that 100% of people who come to the meetings are Christian. Clearly that is not the case if you have people of other faiths wanting to give the invocation. Have you taken a monthly religion poll of the people attending? It's simply an inflated opinion used to try to further your point.

I have serious reservations about what you're role-modeling for the students in your district as well. Your words and actions are telling them that they don't have to be respectful of other people, they don't have to be respectful of the law. This type of policy only encourages bullying among the student (and obviously adult) population. I would also not be surprised to see a student who is a vegetarian leave a class covering ranching or food production and site your behavior as an excuse to do so.

The last thing I'd like to touch on is the startling lack of professionalism you have displayed. During your rotation you are more than welcome to select the speaker of your choice. However, did you just write a reply back to someone using language that would get the children you represent suspended from school? As a school board member you are supposed to help establish and set the standard through your actions and behavior. At this point you are failing miserably, and I would expect far better from someone who has attained your position. If you are not qualified to act in the manner befitting a board member, then perhaps that isn't the position for you.

Sean said...

You call that man out for turning his back out of one side of your face... and then claim it would be perfectly all right for you to LEAVE the room during a prayer offered by someone not of your faith, and take as many people with you as possible.


Jeff Bergosh said...


There is a HUGE difference between leaving and allowing someone to have uninterrupted, unfettered ability to deliver an invocation and the opposite of that-- to actively disrupt an invocation when it is not even your turn. If you can't see that, I can't help you, you are blinded by your ideology.