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Secularist victory in Winter Garden, Fla.

Secularist victory in Winter Garden, Fla.

Commissioners for the city of Winter Garden yesterday voted to replace  prayer  at public meeting with a moment of silence.

Their decision, reported here, follows an unseemly conniption last week that saw an atheist ejected from a meeting by the Mayor, John Rees (above). for refusing to stand during for a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance.

The Mayor then faced criticism from secularists who accused him of violated the man’s First Amendment rights by having him escorted out of the meeting by police.

But others sided with the mayor and called the man “unpatriotic”.

Said Winter Garden resident Steve Nuzzo:

If people don’t want to do that, they can stand outside until business of the town starts and then come back without being disruptive.

Acording to this report, a day before the vote, City Manager Mike Bollhoefer said the city has been considering changes to its traditional opening because of a US Supreme Court ruling in May regarding ceremonial prayer, but the commission moved the issue up a notch  after Rees ordered Winter Garden resident Joseph Richardson to stand for the pledge or be escorted from the chambers by police.

Bollhoefer said:

It’s an important issue that we have to resolve, and we decided we ought to resolve it sooner rather than later.

Rees was strongly criticised by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Wisconsin-based atheist group Freedom from Religion Foundation, which emailed him and asked him to explain at the next meeting that citizens are within their rights to stay seated for the prayer and pledge.

The foundation also said Rees owed Richardson an apology. Rees, did in fact, apologise at yesterday’s meeting.

Said Andrew Seidel, a lawyer for the Foundation:

The government cannot ask people to stand, let alone force people to stand under the threat of arrest.

The Foundation, through Richardson, asked the city to change the way it opens its meetings, particularly the invocation, which is generally a Christian-reflection offered by a city commissioner or clergyman.

Seidel added:

Local governments should not be in the business of writing and saying prayers – though under [the recent Supreme Court ruling] it may hand that duty off to citizens as long as that is done in a nondiscriminatory manner.

The Foundation recommended the city “get rid of prayer altogether” and stop asking citizens to stand.

Bollhoefer said the city has been peppered with emails on both sides of the issue, some supporting Rees and others criticising him.

They run the gamut. Some have offered intelligent discussions — for and against the mayor’s actions — and then you have the wingnuts out there who don’t have the intelligence to spell a four-letter cuss word right.

In May, the US Supreme Court ruled against two residents of Greece, NY, — one Jewish, the other atheist — who had argued that the mostly Christian prayers offered at the start of each meeting were unconstitutional.

The Justices, split 5-4, decided that Christian prayers invoking Jesus’ name at public meetings do not violate the constitutional prohibition against government-sponsored religion, but the court cautioned against using the invocations to proselytise.

Likewise, the 122-year-old pledge has been the focus of legal battles for years, including one in Florida in which a federal appeals court ruled it was unconstitutional to force students to recite — or even stand “at attention” — for the pledge.

The case involved an 11th-grader at a school in Palm Beach County whose parents sued in 2005 after the teen was punished and ridiculed by his teacher for refusing to stand while his classmates recited the pledge.

Rees’s action was wrong, said Baylor Johnson, spokesman for the ACLU.

People are not required to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance or a sectarian prayer or any kind of compulsory expression just to attend a public meeting.

14 responses to “Secularist victory in Winter Garden, Fla.”

  1. Norman Paterson says:

    They really need to get religion out of government. It’s bad enough having these prayers and forced conformity now, but how will they feel when they are required to pray to Allah and bow to conform with Islam? Religion in government is a gaping hole where anything can enter. If there’s any religion in there, then any other religion can demand equal rights. Best fix that puncture now, while it’s still relatively easy.

  2. Angela_K says:

    “If people don’t want to do that, they can stand outside until business of the town starts and then come back without being disruptive”

    There is the problem, the religious assume their belief is the default and anyone who does subscribe to that is a trouble-maker. The religious should have their talking to hands nonsense outside of the councils secular business.

  3. Norman Paterson says:

    Angela – Exactly. In fact their own words express this: by their own admission, whatever they are doing, it is not “business of the town” since that has not yet started.

  4. Lon says:

    I find moments of silence highly offensive and inappropriate. As a matter of conscience i would feel compelled to whistle a few bars of The Pope Song.

  5. Rob Andrews says:

    Of course by partaking in a ‘moment of silrnce’, is giving tacit approval for he others to pray. By keeping our mouth shut no stand is taken against this.

    Speaking up means pushing the ‘atheist agenda’ on everybody else. We can’t have an agenda as we believe in nothing.

    And are we just supposed to think about nothing. Xtians know this too.

    “I know your religion isn’t true, the same way you know other people’s isn’t true”–Mark Twain

  6. Broga says:

    There is such a vast dissonance between their idea of a God who created and controls an infinity of space, galaxies and planets and one who would have the most minute of interest in whether humans acknowledged him. The religious types never seem to think this kind of thought.

  7. Matt Westwood says:

    “…an 11th-grader at a school in Palm Beach County whose parents sued in 2005 after the teen was punished and ridiculed by his teacher for refusing to stand while his classmates recited the pledge.”

    Well when I was at school the teachers would come down on you like sixteen tons of wet cement if you didn’t follow all the standing and praying protocol whenever instructed to at *any* time. No excuses. And I confess: no big deal.

  8. Barry Duke says:

    Matt: No big deal? Well, it certainly was for me when I was at high school in South Africa in the sixties. I flat out refused to stand for the neo-Nazi national athem, Die Stem. I endured several severe canings as a result but would not submit. I was finally expelled for painting “Wilson Pickett for President” across the outside wall of the principal’s office.

  9. Helen s says:

    I’ve always liked you Barry Duke. Reading your post here just makes me like you more.

  10. Barry Duke says:

    Awww. Thank you Helen. Even though I graduated from juvenile to senile delinquent?

  11. barriejohn says:

    “I was caned and it never did me any harm”, eh, Barry?

  12. Barry Duke says:

    Don’t draw wrong conclusions from my experience of being viciously caned, BabbieJohn. The canings I suffered turned me into an aggressive little shit, and I have had deep anger management problems ever since. I deplore corporal punishment.

  13. Matt Westwood says:

    @BD: Apologies, I grew up in the somewhat more gentle 1970’s UK, where at the time we would kowtow to the woo, but the general consensus among my peers was that it was fairly harmless nonsense and just another way for the bosses to oppress the underlings. We just learned that to get on within “the system” one had to follow the pointless rules, keep one’s head down, and not draw attention to what one was *really* doing.

    When challenged on this matter, one of the more colourful of the characters who were our teachers simply smiled like a tiger and pointed out that the school was run as a “benevolent tyranny” and there was nothing we could do about it.

    I confess not to have been subject to the sort of violent fascism that you were — we knew about it (South Africa was one of the options we could study in our history course; sorry, I chose the Marshall Plan and the Cold War) but rarely did we encounter it except in one or two schoolmasters we cats just learned to keep out of the way of.

  14. barriejohn says:

    That’s what I meant, Barry. My statement was ironic!

    I attended the same primary school (early 1950s) as my father had, and the senior teacher had taught him during his entire school career, so my dad kept a keen eye on affairs,especially when I was in his class, as “Crouch” had really had it in for him. (I have an idea that it stemmed from the fact that my grandfather was from Eire, and that Crouch had served there during the uprisings. He had had a bullet through his jaw at some time, which led to him speaking in a very strange manner. He was like a character from Dickens!) The fact was that all the teachers bar those “softies”recently recruited from training college beat the boys mercilessly day after day – especially the “dim” ones who sat at the “lower” end of the class (we had a weekly test to ascertain where we sat, though little movement ever occurred!). Some of the teachers, I am convinced , were sadistic in the true sense of that word, as they obviously got a real thrill out of beating boys. Fortunately for me, I was one of the “blue-eyed boys” who always did well and caused no trouble, so I was NEVER caned, but it must have been sheer hell – as it had been for my dad – for those who came to school every day knowing that they were due for a caning. My dad used to cry himself to sleep every night for years, and I bet some of my classmates did as well. Still, almost half the yearly intake “passed” the Eleven Plus (a ridiculous state of affairs), so no one batted an eyelid!

    PS My grandfather served in the Royal Navy during the First World War, but when his wife died left his son with his brother and came to England looking for a better life. I often wonder whether he couldn’t find work because he had fought for the British during the conflict; I wouldn’t be at all surprised, as many were shunned for that reason. Those were the good old days!