BRADENTON – On the heels of a letter recently sent to Mayor Wayne Poston complaining about the City of Bradenton's practice of holding religious invocations during government meetings, members of the city council unanimously passed a resolution defending its right to do so at Wednesday's meeting.
The letter to the mayor, written by a local woman, stated that she, as a non-Christian, "felt disrespected as well as uncomfortable," that she and the other attendees in a recent City Council Meeting were asked to pray a Christian prayer ("Please pray in Jesus's name"). The letter instead suggested having a moment of silence "so all attending can pray in their own way.”
The resolution passed on Wednesday instead makes a deliberative attempt to have invocations at city council Meetings more inclusive to all "churches, congregations, or other religious assemblies."
Section 4 of the resolution states that the invocation at any meeting will be voluntarily given by "an eligible member of the clergy, as provided for in this Resolution. To ensure that ... the 'invocation speaker' is selected from among a wide pool of of local clergy, on a rotating basis..."
The resolution goes on to say that a list of congregations will be compiled "by referencing the listing for 'churches,' 'congregations,' or other religious assemblies in the annual Yellow Pages phone book(s) research the Internet."
After the meeting, City Attorney Bill Lisch essentially said that the resolution was passed (at least in part) due a recent ruling by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed that the City of Lakeland could hold religious invocations during government meetings.
That city's practice of holding such invocations was challenged when the Atheists of Florida organization filed a lawsuit against the city.
The organization claimed that invocations taking place at government meetings violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Lisch said that a key reason for the court's affirmation was that the City of Lakeland passed a resolution after the lawsuit was filed, which articulated that invocations from all religions were welcome at meetings.
Lisch said that moving forward, the BCC would roughly state before an invocation - "If you wish, please stand and join us, but you don't have to." He also said that the city will be sending out letters to all religious organizations in the area stating they can be put on the list for giving invocations if they wish, and that contacting all religious groups would take at least a month or two.