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.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Invocations: Connection to the Schools is a Factor in Selection

So I’ve received several emails like this one, below, over the last two months.  I got this one yesterday…

"Dear Mr. Bergosh,

    Hello again,

    I am Celebrant XXXXX XXXXXX of XXXX XXXXXXXXX Rd. Pensacola XXXXX, and I am still interested in offering the Invocation for upcoming Escambia County School District meetings. 

    I, as a XXXXXXX XXXXXXXXX, would be requesting you the board members make the best decisions you can with the education, knowledge and experience you have attained, without prejudice.  I ask this so that even we of minority philosophic thinking might still, with equality, be included in all governmental considerations for invocations per the Supreme Court of the United States.

    Would you consider me for an Invocation please?


And as I think about the last eight years on the board, and all the folks that have come on my behalf and brought a pre-meeting prayer, I began reflecting on who it was that I invited and why. 

First of all, it is always someone that I know.  I’ve invited my pastor, the senior pastor at Hillcrest Baptist Church, a man that is an incredible inspiration to me.  He is amazing and his sermons are LEGENDARY!  He also has a connection to our schools, as Hillcrest is the home church for many
 district employees and Hillcrest steps up and supports many area sports teams and booster associations, and they also run intramural basketball and baseball leagues that benefit many public school students. 

And then I think of the district volunteers that I have brought, people that are invested in our schools, including one man I’ve brought twice who was the state of Florida school volunteer of the year for 2013!

And I’ve given the invocation myself, and I’ve asked selected staff members to bring the invocations as well. 

A behavior coach that deals with elementary school students with behavior issues brought the prayer for me once.

And my bible study leader has brought invocations on my behalf-he and his wife have students in our elementary schools.

Everyone I have ever brought on my behalf to pray at our meeting has been either a personal friend or someone intimately familiar with and active in our schools, or both.

And they all have a strong, verifiable connection with our schools.  This is important.

So when I get unsolicited “offers” requesting that I “please pick me” to bring an invocation, I am cautious. 

After all, we’ve had some really pushy, arrogant folks DEMAND that we bring them; to prove we’re not BIGOTS recently.

More troubling, I’ve seen online threats the essence of which is “Tell them you’re going to come bring a Christian prayer, then do a satanic prayer instead, LOL”

I don’t want someone to rob this board of their opportunity to legitimately pray on important issues before a meeting.  I don’t want this board to be subjected to somebody’s prank.  I won’t have that when it is my turn to bring a guest.  It is simply too important and I won’t allow it, because, given this is such an important component of our meeting, designed and included for the benefit of the legislative body as we consider very important issues for action, I’m just not inclined to bring in folks right of the street who I don’t know and who have ZERO interest or connection to our schools.

The attorney for the board has spoken, saying our practice is legal but also that we should consider those of other faiths as our guests.  I’ve taken that to heart and I will bring a non-Christian as a guest soon.

But I’m not going to bring anyone that demands I bring them, or that threatens the dignity and solemn nature of this portion of our meetings—just so such an individual can make a headline.  Or just to prove I’m not a bigot to someone that could care less about our district or the students we serve. 

And I’ll never support going to a moment of silence instead—the only way I accept that is if I’m voted down by my peers or a court forces this.  Neither of these scenarios is likely.


Anonymous said...

This is your problem: "But I’m not going to bring anyone that demands I bring them, or that threatens the dignity and solemn nature of this portion of our meetings..."

It is NOT up to you to decide which religions or prayers or invocations are sufficiently dignified or solemn.

This is the United States of America, and the courts have spoken: you do not have the right to choose which religion you want to provide a blessing prior to a meeting. It doesn't matter if you invite only people you know; that's an exucse.

If a Satanist wants to give the prayer, at some point in time, you're going to have to let him. The law requires it. Satanism is as legal a religion as Christianity.

Stop pushing your religious beliefs on everyone else. It doesn't matter if the rest of the board agrees with those beliefs, you are breaking the law by saying you REFUSE to invite anyone who "threatens the dignity and solemn nature of this portion of our meetings." it's NOT your decision.

Stop hating the law, stop hating America, and follow the rules.

Jeff Bergosh said...

Anonymous--You are wrong. Our attorney has looked at this and our current practice comports with the law. She advised that we should choose some speakers who will bring non-Christian prayer, and I agree this may be necessary to stay in compliance. You should be happy, you should celebrate-I'm going to bring a non-Christian to the meeting in January when it is next my turn. Yes, a non-Christian. I expect to hear your loud approval of this. I'm going to bring someone of the Jewish faith. See, I embrace diversity :)

And oh, by the way, I do not hate the law, I respect and obey the law. I do not hate America, I love this country and believe we are exceptional among nations. And I follow the rules, always have and always will.

And to your point about who it is I choose.... I decide who I choose when it is my turn, not you or anybody else. Try to get that through your skull and understand that this is the way it is going to be. I do not, will not, and never will bring someone as my invited guest to bring the invocation that identifies as a "satanist"

If one of my counterparts does, I will be respectful, but you do not tell me who I bring. Understand that and also understand that no matter how much you attack, no matter how many ad hominem attacks you hurl, you can't sway my thoughts on this nor can you or will you ever be successful in your attempt to get me to acquiesce to your view. Do you get it now?

Anonymous said...

You are, nonetheless, discriminating. By refusing certain religions on your turn, or others, the school board is denying to others the same right they claim: to pray publicly before meetings. The law says that all should have equal access. If your system lets every school board member refuse some religions, you have a bad system and it needs to change. It does not comport with the majority decision in Galloway, which says "prayers might be impermissible.. if the prayer giver is chosen in a religiously discriminatory way" You are clearly shutting out some religions in favor of others. So, you are discriminating. And you call yourself an elected representative? Shame on you! One Jew (like Jesus) does not show you 'embrace diversity'. It shows you favor Bible-believers over others. It's sad that the board would rather pay legal fees to fight this, rather than spend that money on our schools.

Jeff Bergosh said...

Anonymous, re-read Greece v Galloway, I can assure you our attorney has. Then go read Marsh v Chambers, our attorney read that one, too. The fact of the matter is, whether or not you like it, our protocol comports with the law and the rulings. Remeber, Greece v Galloway affirmed the right of the body to have a chaplain deliver a prayer. Folks like you, apparently, are reading between lines, feasting on Kagan, Breyer, and Ginsburg's dissent. They lost. What we do is legal and The board has discussed it in an open meeting with our attorney, who has researched this further and provided a legal opinion on this issue. And the system is not changing until someone with higher authority than you or the "Freedom From Religion Foundation" tells us we must. And we are going to be more inclusive, as a matter of fact, just last month a local individual rolled out a prayer rug and did his own prayer/chant during the invocation. And yes, when I bring a Jewish individual to bring a prayer, that is a display of religious diversity and respect, even if you want to disparagingly minimize the Jewish faith; your condescending attitute toward those of the Jewish faith disgusts me. Shame on You! You obviously have no faith and therefore you are trying to be divisive for sport and political theater. What a sad existance you must be leading. Sad.

Anonymous said...

Bottom line: You are turning away some religions who ask to pray . but allowing others - the ones you agree with. That is the definition of discrimination based on religion. If your attitude is to wait until one of these lesser believers sue you, that's awful leadership. I honestly think you should drop the prayer and try a moment of silence. Isn't that what the schools do, so not to exclude anyone? But you want to promote Christianity at meetings, so that won't work. If you don't welcome everyone equally, frankly, you deserve to get sued.

Jeff Bergosh said...

Anonymous-you are wrong, and you fail to apprehend the issue. First off, and most importantly, the way we are doing the pre-meeting prayer is legal under the Greece v Galloway decision, further supported by the Marsh v Chambers case (go re-read both, please) Additionally, our general counsel has also said her legal opinion is that we comport with the law with our current system. Secondly, we have five board members that individually select their monthly prayer-giver. Everyone gets a chance to select. And one of the board members already invited a pagan, pantheist--however that individual declined the initial extended invitation for reasons unknown. There will be diversity, as I've already stated to you, I’m planning on bringing a Jewish individual. Again--There has been an offer extended to the local individual who is begging to come do a chant-but he declined. Finally, just because you don't feel what we are doing is legal, does not mean your opinion is right. In fact, your opinion is flat-out, dead wrong. You are not a lawyer. It appears as if the only way, in your delusional interpretation of the law, that we comply is if we allow you or someone like you to specify, monthly, who it is that should be brought to bring the prayer. That will not happen: As I’ve stated-the board has discussed this at an open, advertised meeting and the board feels comfortable allowing each individual member the latitude to select the monthly guest on a rotation; the board is comfortable with the current practice.

Anonymous said...

It's not up to board members to decide who gives the prayer. It's a public function, eventually you will have to invite someone from all religions.

Discriminating against a religion by omission is still discrimination. Inviting the token Jew here or there doesn't comport with the law.

Is someone on the board ever going to invite a Satanist, a Wiccan, a Pastafarian? Highly doubtful.

To comply with the law, someone is going to ensure that the board members do not discriminate against the many other religions that the board members find distasteful.

You want to bring religion into the government, you have to put up with the religions that you find abhorrent -- because many of us find any prayer, from any religion, to be a mockery of our Constitution. Some of us actually believe in the First Amendment, and don;t want board members choosing which religions take place at a public, governmental function.

If you actually care about the law, then make a list of religions, throw them in a hat, and whatever religion comes out is the one that gets to offer a prayer before the next meeting. But you want do that, because you want to abuse your power and pick and choose the religions you deem "worthy."

Apple Biter said...

David Suhor here. You are wrong - as usual, in favor or your own personal bias.

After my initial time conflict, I cleared my schedule so I could deliver the November invocation for Ms Hightower. We were good until she rescinded that invitation AT THE MEETING - saying my prayer might be 'offensive'.

What's more, all SB members received offers from several minorities. You each passed them over and will bring in your own (approved) religion instead. Bringing a Jewish person (wasn't Jesus Jewish?) ONLY after being pushed and refusing other non-Christians is NOT diversity. It's just more discrimination, minus the New Testament this time.

Just because all board members claim the right to bring in only pray-ers they like, doesn't make it legal. Just because your attorney - your employee - tries to defend what you want to do, does not make it Constitutional. In fact, your choices only prove that you ALL discriminate and see it as your privilege. Galloway (which doesn't even apply here; this is a school-prayer issue) expressly forbids such discrimination. Basically, the ECSB is colluding to refuse some minorities they don't like an EQUAL time to offer a prayer. You won't even answer requests!!

What's more, you asked me "Are you Christian?" before denying my initial offer. That clearly shows your intention to refuse different-believers (non-Biblical). You can't simply push that off on others, thinking one of them may accept. You EACH must treat all religions equally.

I'm sorry the board's process allows discrimination and calls it 'individual choice' - basically meaning it is the (Christian) privilege of each representative. If that's your system, it is broken and severely biased. If you believe in that system, why not make that clear. Put your policies IN WRITING! What is your policy? Who can pray and who can not? What can they say and what is not allowed? No one knows. Why not publish it so all can see how you discriminate (or don't, as you claim)?

It's this simple - some minorities want to deliver invocations. They don't get answers or they get refused. In most cases, you won't say why - except that it's your choice and that you don't discriminate (clearly a LIE). That's straight-up religious bigotry and it will land you in court. If you're OK with wasting taxpayer's money like that, that's your stupid choice. You are not doing your job, but putting your religion over the good of the schools. Shame on you and good luck defending your actions.

In the end, the results speak for themselves - no non-Christian prayers EVER (so far). That's unAmerican. Our PUBLIC school system is not your personal pulpit, nor your place to reward church-goers who support you. An inclusive moment of silence is your only sound choice. It is also the only choice that doesn't ask anyone to pray against their beliefs. I suggest you take the clear, fair choice.