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Prayer Becomes Official Policy at Bunnell Meetings; “You Can Wait Outside” If Offended

| November 29, 2011

On the Bunnell City Commission, some pray more fervently than others. From left, City Attorney Sid Nowell, Jenny Crain-Brady, and Mayor Catherine Robinson. (© FlaglerLive)

The Bunnell City Commission started its meeting Monday evening not with one, but two prayers—one by Mayor Catherine Robinson, who spoke of supporting troops, the president and the wonders of Thanksgiving, and one by City Commissioner Daisy Henry, who’s also a pastor, and who stuck to a more traditional Christian prayer invoking “the lord” but not Christ. The invocations weren’t brief, combining for two minutes and 30 seconds of the commission’s and public’s time, though they weren’t sermons, either. Sid Nowell, the commission’s attorney, uncomfortable with the whole deal—but overwhelmingly outnumbered by his bosses on this one—had warned against mentions of either Christ or sermonizing.

There might have been additional prayers, and there may well be in the future: the mayor offered the podium to anyone so inspired. No one was. And no one was offered what Commissioner Elbert Tucker called “the opportunity” to wait outside during the prayers, if anyone was offended by the proceedings.

“If this is going to offend anybody, you can wait outside until we’re finished, that way that person won’t be offended,” he’d said.  “I don’t see how we can lose that way. Nobody gets offended, we have an open prayer, and everybody’s happy.”

Welcome to Bunnell government’s interpretation of the First Amendment, which finds a fair share of judges, including justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, on its side—and an equally fair share against, particularly when the mayor and commissioners are doing the praying. Legislatures and courts across the country routinely begin their sessions with invocations, usually delivered with an ear to secularism and inclusiveness and rarely by government officials themselves, though the Supreme Court in 1983, in a 6-3 ruling, ratified one legislature’s custom of paying its chaplain with government funds.  And courts have just as routinely drawn a line against invocations overtly tied to specific religions. Since last spring Bunnell has been taking a distinctly more aggressive line

In a surprising move, it was Tucker rather than any of the other, more publically preachy commissioners who two weeks ago proposed that each meeting begin with an invocation. Tucker, a Mormon, brought the notion up as a discussion point for the agenda rather than an immediate action item. But John Rogers, who’d pushed the city to host a day of prayer earlier this year, didn’t let the opportunity pass and moved, after barely 10 minutes’ discussion, to make an opening prayer—or prayers—official policy of Bunnell government meetings. Crain-Brady seconded. The commission was a unanimous 4-0. Henry was absent at that meeting, though it’s unlikely that the commission’s unofficial pastor would have objected.

“Offering a prayer does not establish a religion,” Tucker said. “Besides that, we’re no Congress. We can’t establish a religion.” And: “How could we establish a religion, each of us being a member of a different church?”

bunnell city commissioner elbert tucker

Elbert Tucker (© FlaglerLive)

Nowell had provided a brief legal explanation to the commission summing up the do’s and don’t’s of government prayer. He cited a Fifth District Court of Appeals case from 1984 that had set out guidelines against government officials delivering prayers. The case was about a judge who was presiding in the trial of a man accused of second-degree murder. The man was convicted of manslaughter. The judge began each day with a brief, minute-long prayer. The convicted man charged on appeal that the judge’s prayers, because of their tone and preachiness, had amounted to instructions to the jury. The claim was rejected, but the court also found that despite the prayers being “clearly sectarian in nature,” they could have been construed as “the judge’s personal religious preferences”—a non-no when those preferences can “relate to the proceedings” in play.

“The prayer should be secular and not preferential to certain religions, or anti-certain religions,” Nowell told commissioners two weeks ago.

“Yeah, I’ve got a problem with that,” Robinson interrupted him.

“I understand, I knew you would,” Nowell continued, “and you’ll have a problem with the next thing I’ll say. In that particular case, what they pointed to was the consistent reference to Jesus Christ.”

“Well,” Robinson lets out.

“The court felt that was not appropriate. And finally, the third point was that no money could be expended by the local government to support a religious activity,” Nowell said.

“So you’re telling me that this court is telling me how I can pray?” Robinson asked.

“This court is telling you or us that you cannot show preference for a particular religion,” the attorney replied, adding: “I do have a problem asking someone to leave.”


Tucker made a distinction: he wasn’t for asking anyone to leave, either. He was for giving people the opportunity to leave during the prayer, though a Supreme Court decision addressed that issue, too, when it struck down student-led invocations at public high school games as well as moments of silence in school because the intent was clearly “for the sole purpose of expressing the State’s endorsement of prayer activities” (much like Bunnell’s intentions) and because it presumed that majority will could prevail over whatever minority might not be inclined to pray. Offering such minorities the opportunity to leave was not a consideration. The mechanism, the court ruled, “empowers the student body majority with the authority to subject students of minority views to constitutionally improper messages. The award of that power alone, regardless of the students’ ultimate use of it, is not acceptable.”

Tucker was fully aware of the debate on the issue. He said he became interested in bringing up the matter to the commission after an encounter with a resident. “I saw a fellow the other day who said what are we not doing that we were doing 30 years ago that has helped change America,” Tucker said, “and to me this is one of the things–of course it’s been 40 years ago–when prayer at the meetings in Bunnelll was a commonplace thing. So I took the man and his idea and that’s what I did.” Absence of prayer from public places, he said, has done “great harm” to the country.

Tucker said the prayers or invocations may be of any religion, any belief system, though Bunnell, whose acquaintance with tolerance is of relatively recent vintage, is not known as a particularly diverse town.

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62 Responses for “Prayer Becomes Official Policy at Bunnell Meetings; “You Can Wait Outside” If Offended”

  1. PJ says:

    Ok so is there an issue here? The courts said as long as you use Lord or God but not be spefic like Mohammad, Jesus Christ or “The devil” ooooooh .

    Sounds good to me.

    Hey we all can use a little prayers. even if you pray for good luck, or a kidney or a good cancer treatment or may be simply just being a good human being.

    I pray for those who just rather complain! Commissioner Tucker is right you all can step outside if you don’t want to pray with the rest of us. Nice work Commissioners proud of ya’ all…………………

  2. Rick says:

    Relgious views are a private matter and there is plenty of time for each of these commissioners to exercise their private religious practices in their private time. I suspect that this policy has little to do with connecting spiritually and more to do with creating an image to the highly religious folks of Bunnell that their elected officials are good christian people.

  3. Jackie Murray Ziegler via Facebook says:

    Good for you!!

  4. Mw says:

    Good for Bunnell. If every Christian or person of faith quit buying junk they don’t need during the” holiday season” you would see every retailer and tax agency on their knees praying.

  5. Anonymous says:

    smh… Is this article serious? This has to be a joke, right? How is it that a bunch backwoods half-wits are running a CITY?? Not a small business… a CITY?? lol these people are so out of touch with society it’s ridiculous. Do they even have an inkling as to how much drugs are coming in and out of this city?? Do they know the types of people that live just a quarter mile from their door step?? Why the hell are they wasting everyone’s time with such mundane nonsense when this city is the biggest joke in the state?? Do they not understand the definition of “separation of church and state”?
    The people that run this city should be ashamed of themselves for being so simple minded and, to put it simply and call a spade a spade, plain old DUMB!!!
    Someone’s gonna have to come down to Bunnell and straighten these people out… and I got news for ya folks, it ain’t gonna be Jesus Christ.

    • jimmythebull says:

      we all need to pray . and more often.
      our coast is wide open.95 and 75 are main drug routes as well as small airports.
      its not only bad in bunnell.this is all connected thrroughout the state.
      in palm coast, the bloods are dealing at ralph carter park. my councilman said to me its a law enforcement problem. my neighbors want to sell their homes while palm coast is offering up to 45,000 dollars to people to move here. thats all we need is more alks, dealers ,users, and thieves.

  6. The Geode says:

    Thank you Rick for using logic and reasoning. There is a REASON why “church and State should be separate. Given people’s penchant for following their OWN interpretation of religion, we can have the SAME people who are praying together have different “religious” views. It doesn’t take religion to do what’s right, follow the law and be a good person. Prayers and insults are spoken with the same mouth.

  7. Will says:

    Maybe it’s time for the good citizens of Bunnell, who don’t want to be bullied by the Christian majority on council, to line up at that microphone with prayers from dozens of religions. All could wish goodwill for the denizens of the village, while perhaps highlighting other points of view. A few Wiccans in the mix could recall ancient good spirits and rituals of the earth, just to keep things interesting in the meetings.

    Tolerance can be fun! Just look at today’s story of the top Exorcist at the Vatican saying that yoga meditation is leading to the worship of Satan.

  8. Amen! So tired of worrying about “offending” people. That alone inhibits my first amendment right to free speech. BTW it is “freedom OF religion” not “freedom FROM religion”.

  9. Angela Smith via Facebook says:

    And the line between Church and State continues to blur; this is NOT a good thing, and it SHOULD be “freedom FROM religion” as well.

  10. Will says:

    Thomas Jefferson must have written something about separation of church and small Florida cities with large acerage Let me go look…..

  11. Annalise Last via Facebook says:

    @ Angela, AMEN!

  12. Xiomeli Calderin-Cordero via Facebook says:

    This country was founded on Judeo Christian beliefs. I love the fact they include God in their meetings.

  13. This country was not “founded” on Christian beliefs. This country was taken over on those beliefs.

  14. PC Dad says:

    I wish Christians would be more about the New Testament than the Old. I personally like Mathew 6:6.

  15. Kip Durocher says:

    Someone will sue and what little money the city has will be spent defending the undefendable.
    This is ancient case law and the cities always lose. Only Judeo-Christians have Daisy Henry’s
    Lord.

  16. Erin, not true. The “taking over” often involved trading & buying property from Natives by the Spanish, French, and English. The “founding” of our nation occurred much later.

  17. Angela, there is no line between church and state. It’s a myth devised by taking a letter out of context….a letter meant to assure a pastor that the govt would not interfere with his church.

  18. Merrill says:

    Bunnell City leaders want you to know that if you don’t believe as they do, you don’t really belong in their fair city! Are there no worthy clergy or houses of worship who can turn the city to prayer without relying on government officials? Are the problems, topics and issues facing Bunnell so few that the city’s elected officials now have the time, effort, energy and attention to take on the role of prayer leaders?

  19. A Bunnell Non-Resident says:

    Getting prayer back in government and our lives will not hurt anyone. I applaud the Bunnell folks for thier free thinking…..

    I hope this means that everyone in Bunnell will be saying Merry Christmas and not just Happy Holidays this year.

    Merry Christmas Everyone!

  20. I am glad that they said if you don’t like it stand outside, about time someone standup to this bullshit. Like oh NO you can not say Merry Christmas its Happy Holidays, GO STAND OUTSIDE.

  21. Max Henderly says:

    Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptists

    This is the official document citing Thomas Jefferson’s position on seperation of church and state.

    Gentlemen

    The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, & in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.

    Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

    I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.

    Th Jefferson
    Jan. 1. 1802.

  22. JL says:

    I’m glad to hear someone is finally standing up for prayer. It doesn’t hurt you. You do not have to partake in it. And if you just stand there, silently, while others pray, what harm is done? Why are you people so afraid of prayer? God Bless America and Merry Christmas!

  23. BW says:

    Good for them, and something refreshing to see.

    Just to comment on a few of the other comments:

    1. Religion is not a ‘private matter’. One’s religious beliefs are about who they are. It is not something one turns off and on based upon the setting they are in.

    2. “Separation of Church and State” is a notion that Thomas Jefferson brought up to insure that religious freedoms were protected by not establishing a government mandated national religion. Notice it was to protect religion and not abolish it.

    3. “Being offended by religious beliefs”. Well, I’m often offended by those who are offended by prayer. I’m offended by a lot of things that both religious and non-religious people do. Interestingly enough if you look throughout our nation’s history and sociological development . . . would you say we are more or less morally “bankrupt” today than in previous decades? Are values higher? Is society improving?

    And if prayer is what “offends” you, you apparently haven’t been out of your house in eons and are really out of touch. There’s plenty nowadays to really offend everyone equally.

  24. Brad West via Facebook says:

    Angela, so your thought is to protect freedoms is by abolishing freedom? I’ve never understood that argument.

  25. roco says:

    HOORAY for them.. Too bad other political meeting etc. don’t have guts enough to stand up for what’s right and for what this country was built on..

  26. Ashley says:

    Let me start first by stating that his country was NOT built on Christianity so quit pushing that bunk like it is fact. Second, this is a PUBLIC OFFICE. If they want to do this off the property on their own time when tax payers are NOT involved, that is their choice. Some of you state that it is OK because they are not specifying a particular God. That’s all well and good until you add in atheists who don’t believe in any God at all. I know plenty of atheists and each and every one is kind hearted and has a truly good soul. It is disgusting that so many “religious” people think otherwise. What about all the “religious” people in prison? Obviously your true goodness is not determined by what religion you follow.

    But of course, the good ole boys and every other backwards moron in this county will protect it until they die. Just another way to push beliefs down people’s throats. I will be forwarding this to every state representative I can think of.

  27. BW says:

    Ashley,

    So your feeling is that the atheist religious beliefs should be accomodated by tax payers but other religious beliefs should not be accomodated by tax payers?

  28. Bully for Bunnell!! About time someone took a stand!!

  29. global 3922 says:

    The city officials of Bunnell prove only one thing…these darn yoyo’s don’t have anything to do at the city meeting. What of waist of public $$$

  30. Mark says:

    Anonymous

    You can leave if you are offended.

    Ashley,

    In 1892, Justice Josiah David Brewer writing in Church of the Holy Trinity vs. U.S., the unanimous supreme Court decision which has never been overturned, held as a matter of law, fact, and history that “…this is a Christian nation,” because our laws and public institutions are founded on Biblical principles from the Old and New Testaments. Brewer continues, “this is historically true. From the discovery of this continent to the present hour, there is a single voice making this affirmation…we find everywhere a clear recognition of the same truth…this is a Christian nation.”

  31. w.ryan says:

    Religion is a personal matter that should be left outside of official government gatherings especially when prayer is specific to the person that leads the prayer. To say that he or she is praying to the same God( Jesus or his Father for most in the US) as ones own is too simplistic to the whole nature of religion. To displace anyone and have them step away is also ridiculous. Pledge to the flag and move on to the meeting.

  32. Only in Bunnell says:

    If they want to pray why don’t they go to their place of worship i.e. church, cathedral, temple or synagogue like everyone else? They can also sit at home and pray till their blue in the face. Next they will let their religion start dictating the decisions they make. Will Robinson’s religion tell her to raise water prices or will tucker’s religion tell him to annex more land into a city that can’t provide basic services to what it has now. All other cities keep them seperated for a reason. I don’t go to church and stand up and talk about national debt or our governor’s decision to outsource Florida’s jobs to other states. Keep the religion at home and/or at the place of worship where it belongs.

  33. Will says:

    BW said: “So your feeling is that the atheist religious beliefs should be accomodated…”

    BW needs to wake up and smell the coffee. If they’re athiests, they DON’T HAVE RELIGIOUS BELIEFS.

    That’s like many who think who think that being Jewish is just some other odd Christian denomination. True stuff.

  34. rickg says:

    I have one question… does this mean the Bunnell City Commission will leave cookies and milk for Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny too???

  35. Melissa Myers says:

    I think this is the best thing I have read, because it shows that we Americans are protecting our rights. This a great way to get our country back now if every city, county, and state would follow that would be awesome.

  36. Anonymous says:

    This is so dumb its out of control… This is government!! No place for beliefs here… They should not be wasting tax payers money while Daisy Henry speaks in tongues…
    Anyone who is appluding this needs a reality check.

  37. Debi Peterson via Facebook says:

    Awesome Bunnell! AND Merry Christmas!

  38. 2 cents says:

    That is funny…”this is government! No place for beliefs here.” Whether non-Christian or Christian, both push their beliefs and have the freedom to do so. To tell the other they can’t is intolerance.

  39. Witchy Mamma says:

    I wonder how they would react if I stood up and led a prayer to the Lord and Lady… Would they still advocate for prayer then?

    And everyone needs to realize that its not the lack of prayer in our country that is leading us into a pit… its lack of good leadership. Maybe if they were more interested in political and fiscal affairs rather than those separated from the state, we’d be able to dig ourselves out of it.

  40. Anonymous says:

    Attn: BW

    Hmm… So by not introducing prayer and religion into PUBLIC OFFICE means they are promoting atheism? Ok well then by your standards, hosting that prayer is promoting religion.

    Get it?

  41. Anonymous says:

    Attn: Mark

    I see you simply used wikipedia to form some type of defense. Well, here’s an equally lazy response from the same source:

    “Perhaps realizing how his phrasing could create mischief and misinterpretation, Justice Brewer published a book in 1905 titled The United States: A Christian Nation. In it he wrote:

    But in what sense can [the United States] be called a Christian nation? Not in the sense that Christianity is the established religion or the people are compelled in any manner to support it. On the contrary, the Constitution specifically provides that ‘congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.’ Neither is it Christian in the sense that all its citizens are either in fact or in name Christians. On the contrary, all religions have free scope within its borders. Numbers of our people profess other religions, and many reject all. [...] Nor is it Christian in the sense that a profession of Christianity is a condition of holding office or otherwise engaging in public service, or essential to recognition either politically or socially. In fact, the government as a legal organization is independent of all religions.”

    I specifically would like you to read the last sentence.

  42. elaygee says:

    I’ll be at the next meeting offering my prayer to the great lord, Satan and asking him to smite those who disobey him by worshipping a dead jew on a stick

  43. Bill Hazz says:

    Perhaps the commission should begin the meetings 5 minutes early, with the doors closed and allow entry after their prayers. You can start on time and without the brain dead people that are on this thread. You know who you are.

    • C J Adams says:

      What is wrong with saying a prayer? Are we afraid something good might happen because we have asked God to help us with decisions. I could never understand why people get so upset when someone opens with prayer in a public place. God is good and would love to help this country and government if we only ask.

  44. Witchy Mamma says:

    Just a suggestion, but if there is anyone who lives within Bunnell city limits who would like to publicly challenge this in court… you have options. There are some organizations that MAY be able to back you. I, unfortunately, do not live within city limits. If it had happened in my neighborhood I would absolutely contest it.

    • Nancy N. says:

      I recommend the ACLU or the Freedom From Religion Foundation as starting points for anyone in Bunnell who would like to challenge this.

  45. Layla says:

    How sad….with all the problems this country has, this gang are in a fight over the right to pray in public. Is it any wonder things are in the state they are?

    No wonder the lawyers are all rich and holding public office in Washington.

  46. PJ says:

    Hey Rickg that was very funny but my money is on milk and cookies because we still all hear the bell my friend. However that was funny.

    So what’s the problem. You go to the meeting the Mayor starts it off by saying as few kind words and she asks for a moment of silence for the troops, the board, the residents of Bunnell and the President. This all seems pretty unassuming so far. Then someone asks if anyone would like to lead a pray or say some positive words, this also seems uneventful.

    So is this a waste of taxpayer money? REALLY? Is this the makings of a ingornant self centers Commission? REALLY? So you don’t agree with the law? REALLY? If the high court says it’s ok why not practice to protect your right’s? NO REALLY THISTIME! It is fine just don’t be spefic like “Christ” or “Jesus” “Budhha” or whatever and your not supposed go sermonize and carry on.

    So far first time out seemed to go ok. I did not feel like was at a revival and expecting the second coming.

    It is pretty simple and very appaling that you can even complain about peole wanting to believe and even want to say a few kind words………..

    The other good thing

  47. another voice says:

    This country was not FOUNDED on religion. Whoever believes that needs to read a damned history book.

    This whole thing is ridiculous. Who the hell died and put the Bunnell City Council in charge of determining which religious prayer the rest of us have to officially sanction? What if we don’t want to? Oh, right, if we don’t like it we can wait outside”?? That makes anyone who might not like it a–second class citizen.

    I’m tired of this freakshow. I didn’t vote for you people to come in and blur the line between church and state. Drop the pretense and get some real work done, or else tell us who you really work for. .

  48. Layla says:

    You don’t have to sanction anything, only learn to be more tolerant of the views of the people around you.

    Why would you consider yourself to be a second class citizen for disagreeing with it?

  49. Mw says:

    Look at your money. I think it has In God We Trust on it.

  50. palmcoaster says:

    Attorney Nowell correct in his advise.
    Lets keep the peace at least right here, at home and among us and just pray to our God/S or Lord’S and I know our compassionate and forgiving Jesus won’t mind.

  51. jespo says:

    Blah blah blah, blah blah…blah blah blah…amen. Now get to work you fools…

  52. Reinhold Schlieper says:

    Fact is that Jesus H.Christ forbids praying in assemblies. See Matthew 6, 5 ff. What idiots does it take not to know their own religion? And the “higher power” does not exist in Buddhism and is led ad absurdum in Hinduism. And still we see people talking themselves into being “inclusive” in their own tiny little world of misguided ignorance. A bit more on Matthew 6: Isn’t it amazing how simple and clear and straightforward those words are? And yet, all kinds of wiseacres will immediately spout off about what they and none else knows about JHC’s TRUE intentions. By the time they’re done, they would have that passage mean the opposite of what it says. Geeeeez!

  53. Nancy N. says:

    Interesting section in this article about the Supreme Court ruling on student-led school prayer…the bill that Republicans are trying to force through the state legislature right now regarding student-led school prayer is trying to do exactly what that Supreme Court ruling said clearly was unconstitutional.

    Just another example of the folks in Tallahassee lately seeming to not care about the constitutional rights of anyone that doesn’t believe or live the way they do…they just pretend that the precedent doesn’t exist because they don’t agree with it and then spend all our tax dollars paying lawyers fighting cases when they should have known before they ever passed these bills that they would lose them based on the precedent.

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