Tuesday, for the first time since 2004, a prayer began a Miami-Dade commissioner meeting even amongst criticism that mixing religion and government is setting the county up for inevitable legal woes.
"May God the Almighty bless you all, bless us all with peace, harmony and the ability to continuously do good and share love,” Rabbi Avroham Brashevitzky said. He also dropped 26 gold coins into a charity box, representing the victims of the Sandy Hook school shootings.
Watch the video above.
On December 4, commissioners voted 8-3 to replace a moment of silence before meetings with a prayer from a selected religious official.
The moment of silence has been used to open Miami-Dade commissioner meetings since 2004, when it was initiated in order to be more inclusive to those who are not religious or whose religion is not mainstream.
This new coziness of state and church was the result of an intense 18-month lobbying effort by the Christian Family Coalition. Anthony Verdugo, executive director of the conservative Christian group, said the vote ended “8½ years of discrimination.”
Commissioner Esteban Bovo Jr. supported the change, saying "This body needs the light of God for the decisions that we make."
Meanwhile, Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida, went on to outline the sticky Catch-22 the county is now in: If a selected religious official is too specific to a certain religion, the county will be sued for violating separation of church and state. If commissioners attempt to stop a religious official from using certain phrases or words, the county could be sued for censorship.
But more strikingly, Simon was struck about what this means for the atmosphere in which county decisions are made:
"… what is disheartening is to hear some commissioners say that they don’t even understand why anyone would be offended by attending a meeting of their own county commission only to be asked to stand, bow their heads, and pray to Jesus Christ our lord and savior, or some other deity or some sacred scripture of a religious tradition that is not their own."
“That some commissioners don’t even understand why that would offend or trouble someone," Simon continued, "is an indication that, though we pride ourselves on being a diverse community, we really live in silos and in isolation.”
Last March, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a bill permitting school districts to allow students to read inspirational messages of their choosing at assemblies and sporting events. Although the word "prayer" was explicitly struck from the bill's language, the legislation is largely seen as a way for the State to sneak in religion into public schools.