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.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How Do Other Governmental Bodies Handle The Pre-Meeting Invocation?

                             What Happens If the Witch Doctor Demands to Be Heard??

A fierce debate is brewing over how governmental agencies can be more “inclusive” during invocations, allowing for those of other faiths to be allowed an opportunity to deliver their version of an invocation.  In some cities, Atheists, Wiccans, and other groups are demanding they be given a chance to give the opening invocations. Some municipalities are bowing to such demands.

One group of Atheists in Brevard County was told “no” by the chairman of that board, and that board’s lawyer. 

Now, that Atheist group is considering a lawsuit against Brevard County.

\Some cities have come up with detailed rules and procedures to limit and strictly define who can deliver the invocations.  Several cities have used this type of a template for their policy.

Some locally want to be able to barge right in and insert themselves into the rotation, crying discrimination if they are not IMMEDIATELY selected.  That tactic won’t work with me-I don’t know if it will with my counterparts….we’ll see in the next few months I suppose.

 I’m not one who discriminates, and I won’t here either. However, I think we need to think long and hard about making any radical changes to our current practice.  While I do not think anyone I select would intentionally make a mockery of this solemn point in a meeting, who knows what someone with a massive "axe to grind" on this issue might do to make a splash in the media “spiking the football” in the face of the majority of meeting attendees who are overwhelmingly Christian? 

I mean, should the majority of persons in attendance at one of our meetings really have to listen to a satanic verse?  What if a “Witch Doctor” comes to the podium with a full-on costume, chicken-feet, a voodoo doll and other associated  over-the-top regalia?  It could easily get out of hand, so far as I can tell....(I wonder what our local media would say about this?)

And I won’t stay and listen if someone tries to be disrespectful like that.  I’ll leave the room and come back after, or wear BOSE noise cancelling headphones.  Or I'll turn around and raise my fist in the air like the '68 Olympians did(uh, I'm being sarcastic-I wouldn't really do that...)...... I won’t be part of someone's prank.

So we have to be careful about how this issue is managed.

Locally, I’ve been bombarded by people offering their willingness to give invocations lately…. However, as a current practice each board member has the latitude to select whomever he/she wants to deliver the invocation before the meeting.  In my eight years on the board, I’ve utilized a priest, two pastors, a youth pastor, the leader of my bible study group, several members of the district staff, a school community volunteer, and I’ve delivered the invocation on a number of occasions myself. I like having the flexibility of the board’s rotation system, and I’m not in favor of changing it…

I’d even be willing to select someone other than a Christian to deliver the invocation.  I’ve recently been contacted by someone of the Jewish faith, and I’m considering having that individual bring the invocation when it is next my turn, in January 2015.


Anonymous said...

This school board has a problem with diversity, religious discrimination and following it's own rules.
Since 2011, 100% of the invocation prayers offered at this meeting were of the majority religion. I'm not sure if this board has EVER had a prayer from a non-Biblical perspective. That's probably because each SB member acts as gatekeeper, choosing and introducing their favored prayer givers. Of course, you all pray to the same, singular, paternal god.
So what? Well, when religious minorities (like myself) have asked to participate in the invocation (as is our right by law), we've been mostly thwarted for dubious reasons and in a way that discourages further participation. That's illegal.
Under Galloway v Greece, a narrow 5-4 Supreme Court decision this year, invocations before legislative bodies were allowed to continue, BUT Galloway warns us that such prayers should not be coercive and must be practiced without endorsement, nor religious discrimination.
So, does the ECSB discriminate against minority religions? Let's see - since I made my requests, I've had to 2 answers of NO, two no answers, and one yes! Thank you, Ms Hightower for accepting my offer without a religious test. Unfortunately, I have another commitment for November.
And now for the good news - there is a SIMPLE solution to ending discrimination here: ECSB's own policy, the Student Handbook. It says: "No person and no employee or agent of the District shall coerce, advocate, or encourage in any way whatsoever prayer or any other religious activity by students"
We all know that students regularly attend these board meetings. So, I'd like to challenge this board to follow it's own rules; forget the "do as I say, not as I do" policy of leading prayer here alone. Just look to your own guidelines for an inclusive compromise - a moment of silence:
Again, from the Student Handbook: "The moment of silence is not intended to be, and shall not be conducted as a religious service or exercise, but shall be considered an opportunity for a moment of silent reflection on the anticipated activities of the day. " That sounds perfect for this occasion AND it respects everyone's religious views without asking them to pray against their beliefs.
I would love to discuss Galloway more, but <...I lack the time>
<...I hope we don't need to. We all know that ECSB has not done enough to foster inclusion or diversity in it's invocations. We know this is not a legislative body - it's about the students. And we know that staff and commissioners should not be leading invocations or endorsing just one type of prayer. Luckily, you've written your own solution. But, if you refuse a moment of silence, please know that you MUST allow ALL who wish to deliver an invocation, welcoming us equally and eschewing coercion or the appearance of endorsement.>

In conclusion, I pray this board will embrace this teaching opportunity and show our students that different faiths (and none at all) can only co-exist and thrive. I pray our elected officials will refuse to favor one religious expression to the exclusion of others. And I pray you'll follow the rules you set for the rest of the school system, so that everyone feels welcome at this meeting and so you may focus on the business of this board.

Anonymous said...

Re-read. Wow, lots of fear-mongering there. It sounds like you prefer censorship of invocations based on someone's judgment of which religions are valid and which are not.

If you're not sure whether the Escambia County School District endorses Christianity explicitly, watch Willie Spears (Escambia High Head Football Coach) give the invocation in May of 2014.

Most of it is typical, until "I pray...that when people see the ECSD seal, they will think of Jesus the Christ"

Jeff Bergosh said...

Tell you what Dave. You come to the meeting to bring the invocation when one of the other board members invites you. As you come to the podium, I'll politely state that I am heading out back, to bless the meeting 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, you can bring your officially sponsored, sanctioned invocation 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 you nor prevent your free (religious, non-religious, sectarian, klingon, etc) expression of your invocation. I will expect the same courtesy from you. Then, after a couple of minutes, I'll come back into the room (along with anyone else who joined me), We'll do the pledge, and carry on with the meeting! a win-win, wouldn't you say, Dave?

Anonymous said...

That sounds like a plan (and you creating a spectacle). Make sure it's legal and I'll accept.

Andy said...

How about, crazy thought here, NO INVOCATION AT ALL? What in the world does wasting time praying to anything have to do with getting down to the business you were elected to do?

Anonymous said...

"I'll politely state that I am heading out back, to bless the meeting 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, you can bring your officially sponsored, sanctioned invocation to whomever is left in the room."

So your compromise is to act childishly, and demonstrate that your faith is so incredibly weak that you can't stand to hear an invocation of any other religion than your own personal one. Here's a better idea - how about you grow up, behave like an adult, and just deal with the fact that you can't monopolize the invocation?

Anonymous said...

You're behaving like a child. Is this what people elected you to do?

Anonymous said...

So let me get this straight: people who have religious beliefs that are not your own are not equivalent to you, so you're going to take your ball and go home because you can't handle the mere thought of someone worshpping (or not worshipping) something other than your god.

I'm surprised you still have a job.

Brian Westley said...

And I won’t stay and listen if someone tries to be disrespectful like that.

What would you do if someone was as disrespectful as, say, you?

Anonymous said...

You are ignorant and bigoted for forcing your antiquated views on other attending these meetings. The United States is a diverse land, made up of more than X-stains and their make believe friend.

Anonymous said...

Separation of Church and State - no prayer or invocation. Freedom of religion also means freedom from religion. Read your constitution. Perhaps serving on a government board isn't in your best interest - maybe a church board instead.

Jeff Bergosh said...

Brian I do not disrespect anybody's religious preferences. You don't know me. I'm simply
Coming up with a plan that allows someone like you to deliver an invocation to whomever wants to stay and listen. What's your
Problem with that? Worried you might be talking to an empty room? So, to summarize your position, we're supposed to not only provide you the opportunity to speak, but if we don't stay and gobble it up that makes us the bad guys? Get a life why don't you...

Jeff Bergosh said...

Christian, how does coming up with a plan that allows people like you to have an opportunity to deliver an invocation while simultaneously allowing those of us who don't want to listen to your prayer a mechanism a polite way to opt out---explain precisely how that makes me childish. I think it makes me pragmatic.

Jennifer said...

Why do you need to warn someone and encourage them to walk out? Xtians can simply already do what non-believers do at every meeting: silently and respectfully sit, stand, turn their backs, play on their phones, meditate, stick their fingers in their ears and hum, whatever. Are you so afraid of offending Christians that you need to give them a special warning bnot given when a Christian speaks? "WARNING: Content of invocation prayer may not be what the board wants it to be. It may contain heretical ideas that Christian ears should never hear. Please feel free to excuse yourself in protest."

Anonymous said...

Take a good look at the picture of the 'witch doctor' above, Mr. Bergosh. That's how you and the rest of the superstitious community look to rational people.

Tris Stock said...

I can't help but notice your leaving the room with the rest of the audience would actually highlight why the official public invocation is so utterly unnecessary.

If having your invocation done anywhere other than the public forum is such an easy and simple alternative, why not just do that anyway? At which point, this whole charade becomes moot.

Anonymous said...

In consideration that non religious people are the fastest growing demographic among young people in American. I would impress upon you the idea that one day, Christians will be a minority in this country. In Scandinavia it's already the case with sociologists estimating that in less than 20 years it will be gone. Just bringing it up because you might meditate on the idea of how are you treating minority religious viewpoints now and how you might be treated once Christianity is a minority.

Rey'n Brazeal said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jon Knoxville said...

So, while I think there will be those who want to imitate the stunts portrayed in shows like "Jack Ass," I agree with your thought of non indulgence. The irony here, though, is these believers who think the world popped out of nothing, i.e., they believe in nothing, who have always walked away, turned their back (like the "winner" at the last school board meeting did) or whatever, now want to force you to stay. As their idol, Dr. Spock would say, "fascinating."
They are just jealous that when you walk out, others who are rational will follow. And, these non lawyers claim they can force you to stay. Isn't that like the left, I can do as I please, but, you must listen and be polite to my non sensical garbage. Guess what, when liberalism reaches its end path, it splits in two pieces: fascism and communism.
Keep doing great things and ignore the most vocal minority here. You know who they are, flying spaghetti monsters who need to have some parmesan cheese sprinkled on top...

J. Cope said...

I do not understand the issue with having the invocation from various recognized religions allowed for the meetings.

Frankly, as the board would have to approve the speaker, it would be simple enough to keep someone from spreading a hateful message or some idiocy about worshiping Satan. Though, Satanists are kind of idiotic in the fact, that by worshiping a being from Christianity, they are technically Christians that are worshiping the losing team. But, I digress.

I would assume that current Christians that give the invocation aren't allowed a great number of props save for their bible or notes. So, for a Voodoo witch doctor (Actually, called Houngan if it is a male priest.) to show up and perform the invocation, he would not need any extra props for a show or a chicken to sacrifice. And just fyi, Vodou is not the best choice for a religion you would list with satanists and ban. They give praise to many of the same Christian saints and, unlike the movie portrayals aren't all savages/bone carriers that try to raise the dead. Please at least do some minor research, even something as flawed as wikipedia, before making such assumptions about any faith.

That being said, again, the board has approval on who get's to speak. So, while your broadening your horizons to allow a Rabbi to speak instead of a Catholic, Protestant, or Baptist, please understand that not everyone agrees with you either. I am sure there are those that are in the audience that would like to step outside and not have to listen to what you or others say. But, doing so is disrespectful and insulting. Which is most likely why they simply sit quietly and wait for the meeting to start.

Lastly, please note that the Sci-Fi based Klingon religion and it's worship of Kahless, to my knowledge, is in not a currently recognized religion in the United States of America. The only science fiction based religion to ever get off the ground and become a power house was Scientology. The only Klingon church/faith that I have ever heard of or recently seen was it's being used as a tool with Christianity. (Basically, it is sci-fi fans getting together and comparing aspects of both religions and how it relates to Jesus's resurrection. Long story, just do a Google search for Klingon Church.)
So, no. No one would be allowed to give the invocation in Klingon or any other fictional language.
As our national language is English and all of the meetings must be transcribed for the records, I always thought that it was pretty much a given that any invocation is just done in English. Though, if the board wanted a foreign priest make remarks you may or may not understand, by all means, go ahead.

I respect your faith and your feelings that it, above all others, is what is best for the world. That is how most people view their own faiths and denominations of those faiths. However, please understand that not all those of other faiths are that different from you and the basic tenants of your own Christian beliefs. Also, not all atheists or agnostics are out to destroy your belief structure. Much like with Christianity and Islam, there is simply a rather loud minority that takes everything to the extreme in order to get attention. This is not one of those times. This is not an attack on you personally or your faith as a Christian. This was just a simple request presented to you publicly by one of your fellow residents in Escambia to recognize that they have a right have their faith bless such proceedings at times or, if an atheist, to give words of inspiration and wisdom focused inward upon the individuals in attendance and not outward towards a supreme being above. He just made sure to back it up with legal precedent.
Thanks for your time.

Anonymous said...

"What Happens If the Witch Doctor Demands to Be Heard??"

Oh, that's an easy one. If a Witch Doctor requests to give the opening invocation then you allow a Witch Doctor to give the opening invocation. Just like you allow a Christian to give the opening invocation.

Now that wasn't hard was it.

Tim McElligott said...

Your reference to witch doctors was rude, disrespectful and presumptuous. But also consider this when talking about voodoo, full on costumes and over-the-top regalia: What do you think this image looks like to someone who is non-religious.

Celestine Angel said...

Wow, your ignorance of anything outside yourself and your tiny experience of the world is not impressive at all. You should learn something about other people, perspectives, religions, and cultures.

Anonymous said...

Typical christian reaction.

Anonymous said...

You guys are embarrassing me. I wish I could say that I can;t believe that members of my county's school board would act like this, but I'm really not.

Ridiculous. You are a ridiculous person. I want to let you know that as a parent of a child who attends school in Escambia County, your histrionics and blatant bigotry are not appreciated. You ought to be deeply ashamed of yourself. You aren't, of course. But you should be... and I feel sorry for you and sorrier still for the people who have to deal with you.

Anonymous said...

How does Jeff Bergosh still have a job serving the public? He clearly should be working for a Church.

Let's vote this intolerant bigot out of office ASAP and be done with it. There is real work to do.

James K said...

Mr Knoxville, just to correct your ignorance.... fascism is on the right wing side of the political spectrum. If it is the end point of anything then it is the end point of conservatism... not liberalism.

Anonymous said...

Some years ago, I was a member of a city council. I'm also a Hellenic Reconstructionist -- that is, I am devout to the Hellenic Theoi (which you know better as "the Greek Gods").

The council considered including an invocation at the start of meetings, with council members leading it. I pointed out that we could do so on a rotational basis; I certainly wouldn't object to our Catholic councilman invoking the mercy of Mary, or our Baptist councilwoman invoking the blessings of Jesus of Nazareth, and certainly they wouldn't object to me invoking the wisdom of Athena, yes?

On that note, they immediately decided that perhaps this whole invocation business was a bad idea and dropped it.

James K said...

To the person who said this: The council considered including an invocation at the start of meetings, with council members leading it. I pointed out that we could do so on a rotational basis; I certainly wouldn't object to our Catholic councilman invoking the mercy of Mary, or our Baptist councilwoman invoking the blessings of Jesus of Nazareth, and certainly they wouldn't object to me invoking the wisdom of Athena, yes?

We Catholics do not worship Mary.

spawn420100 said...

Apparently Jeff Bergosh is intolerant of others religions. Should someone who is so ignorant be in that position? Who else is he intolerant of? I don't think that being rude and walking out during the evocation is acceptable. Have some class and dignity in respecting others religions, even if you don't believe. I don't think someone like you should hold your position. If you can't be reasonable and respectful of religions, what else are you full of hate on? What other people do you hate? A bigot like you should step down. This is a country of many religions. Get used to it.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Bergosh,

I would just like to inform you that you do, indeed, represent people who have different beliefs from you. While it is commendable to include other faiths, such as one of many Jewish traditions, the Pagan invocation was not disrespectful. Comparing his outfit and demeanor to a Witch Doctor is insulting to American Pagans, to actual practitioners of Voodoo, and to other Christians.

As a Pagan, I am glad to work with other minority religions in my community. We have long standing relationships with Christian groups and have recently reached out to the Jewish and Muslim communities in my area. While we don't believe in what the others do, we respect them as individuals and celebrate their voices.

I was Pagan as a high school student and I remember being discriminated against by Christians who opposed my beliefs. I was falsely accused of "cursing people with Tarot cards" and told I could not wear my emblems of faith because it was similar to some anonymous gang symbol that was never specified. Students and faculty who bullied me were beyond reproach. I was forced to answer for my beliefs by people in authority, and told pityingly, "I'll pray for you".

Whether or not you agree with other beliefs, you are a public official and as such, you represent people who don't necessarily hold the same beliefs or worldview as yourself. How do you think those people feel?

BJohnM said...

"What if a “Witch Doctor” comes to the podium with a full-on costume, chicken-feet, a voodoo doll and other associated over-the-top regalia?"

What is a Catholic Priest shows up in his dress, big hat, carrying what he believes to be the literal flesh and blood of Jesus Christ?

Anonymous said...

It seems fairly obvious, if not painfully so, that if the law allows for a religious invocation, and a witch doctor asked to give such an invocation, then it would be your obligation under law to accept it.

The religious beliefs of any one member of the board -- indeed, the beliefs of the majority of the board -- are immaterial here. The constitution is a great and powerful document because it protects the rights of minorities against the "tyranny of the majority."

I fail to find any case in which your denial of a witch doctor's right to give the invocation would be lawful, or even moral.

James K said...

Mr. Bergosh, if you can't stand to listen to the invocation of some other religion then you have no grounds to expect anyone to listen to the invocation of your religion.

James K said...

Mr Bergosh, when you are doing your job as an elected official you are representing everyone in, in this case, your school district. You are not representing just your fellow Christians... you are representing everyone.

If you can't do your job because your religious beliefs get in the way then resign your position

The Captain said...

He will walk out because he doesnt have the same respect for others beliefs that he demands for his own

Anonymous said...

So, Christians get to have special privileges and everybody else can just f#ck off? Nice to know the constitution of the United States is not truly for all americans.

Jeff Bergosh said...

No, Anonymous, they do not simply get to "F#ck off" as you so politely put it, because nowhere in the constitution or in any SCOTUS ruling does it say that we have to personally invite a non-Christian to bring our invocation every month. You fail to apprehend the issue; There is freedom of religion, and freedom from religion. Last month, we had a moment of silence. The Pagan who stirred this issue up locally (who really just wants attention) was invited by another board member to bring his invocation, and he backed-out for reasons unknown. When it is my turn to next bring a guest, I'm bringing a Jewish person to bring the opening prayer. Our board does nothing that violates the constitution, you simply have a failed understanding of what it is the constitution, and the relevant SCOTUS rulings, say and mean with respect to local legislative bodies and their legal right to open meetings with a prayer for the benefit of the assembled body. Try to figure that out, why don't you.