“That’s how we’ve always done it.”
It is. Whether it be county commission meetings or those for city councils, a religious invocation has preceded any governmental action in communities around Georgia for decades. Centuries.
But some say that is not inclusive.
Don Armel addressed the Statesboro City Council meeting Tuesday morning to voice his concerns on an issue dating back a month and a half. Armel requested to be placed on the agenda after the city’s adoption of the “Inclusiveness Resolution” in March. (Read the resolution here). His claim? Having an invocation at the beginning of council meetings contradicts the resolution adopted by council.
Armel is a 21-year resident of the City of Statesboro and a former Georgia Southern professor. He was present when the Inclusiveness Resolution was adopted and says he is one of many who feel the invocation should be removed.
Below is the text from Armel’s speech to council: (as transcribed from AllOnGeorgia audio)
Thank you Mayor Moore and Council members. I’m so happy to see the adoption of Resolution 2017-14, a title which is too long, but abbreviated is something like ‘Statesboro is a safe, inclusive, and welcoming community.’
May I suggest that if you’re serious about the resolution, that you can start right here with your own actions. Is the invocation at the beginning of city councils inclusive of all your constituents? If yes, then you don’t know your constituents. If no, why continue?
As it is, the invoking of the name JESUS CHRIST is exclusionary in the community. Christianity is a dominant religion but it is not the only one. In an effort to be inclusive, which other religion would you like to have give an invocation at one of your next meetings? Islamic? Hindu? Satanic? Buddhism? Wiccan? Mormon? Or maybe an inspirational message from an atheist?
Referring to the resolution, is being inclusive important and fundamental? But not here. Is it an every day priority? But not here. Are you leading the way in making it a priority? But not here. Should citizens expect equal opportunity and treatment? But not here.
I suggest that in the spirit of the resolution and inclusiveness that the invocation be removed from the city council meetings. Thank you.
Per standard meeting procedure, neither the council nor the mayor made any comments on the issue on the record.
Following the meeting, Armel said the optimal outcome is for invocations to cease all together, but should the action remain in place, other religions should be permitted to begin meetings with an invocation as well. “But there’s no reason to do it,” he said. At the end of the day. Statesboro is not as inclusive as some of the elected officials may think, Armel said. He did, however, place the ball in the court of “those not being represented” to step up and give voice.
The United States Supreme Court weighed in on the issue in 2014 in a 5 to 4 vote which said prayers said before meetings of an Upstate New York town council did not violate the constitutional prohibition against government establishment of religion.
Many other communities in the region pray before meetings, including, but not limited to, the Bulloch County Commissioners, the City of Brooklet, the town of Register, the City of Claxton, the Evans County Commissioners, the City of Daisy the Emanuel County Board of Commissioners, the City of Reidsville, the City of Glennville, the City of Cobbtown, and the Tattnall County Commissioners.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation has been an active player in pushing for the removal of invocations around the country – in schools and government meetings – though Armel did not claim any association.