Tell Winter Garden, FL to change its discriminatory invocation policy
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Winter Garden city commission meetings currently feature an invocation to open each meeting. The resolution that created the invocation policy (Res. 15-04 and Res. 16-02) did so in a way that allows commissioners, individually or as a board, to discriminate with respect to who can offer an invocation. They have done exactly this, excluding certain residents from offering an invocation and from full participation in their local government. This stands in opposition to the express direction of the Supreme Court of the United States¹ and to any reasonable sense of fairness.
The population of Florida is religiously diverse, with less than half identifying as Protestant Christians. The Commission has expressed its desire to reflect this diversity in the invocations, but this is not borne out in the data: as time has progressed, the frequency and overall percentage of non-Christian invocations has remained disproportionately low, with Protestant Christian prayers now accounting for over 95% of all invocations.
The city also maintains a list of approved invocators for the commissioners to choose from. Months after invocations were reintroduced in March 2015, 27% of the invocators on this list were non-Christian. By January 2018, after additional restrictions were placed on invocators (see Res. 16-02), that number was reduced to a mere 5%. Christian invocators now make up 95% of the list—to the detriment of diversity, equal treatment, and proportional representation.
Furthermore, this policy allows the commissioners to discriminate against individuals as well as groups; several invocators have never been selected to offer an invocation, while other invocators have given as many as four invocations in the last three years. The fact that commissioners are permitted to choose invocators without restriction means that they can continue to choose their favorites while ignoring other willing volunteers.
In consideration of the above, we, the undersigned, call upon the Winter Garden City Commission to take one of the following three actions to end the discriminatory nature of the current invocation policy:
- Revamp the invocations policy:
a) Drop any organizational requirement for invocators;
b) Allow ANY willing Winter Garden resident or a designated representative of a Winter Garden resident or a designated representative of an organization in Winter Garden to be on the invocator list;
c) Remove the commissioners’ power to select invocators; and
d) Select invocators by rotating through the list giving every invocator an equal opportunity to participate.
- Replace invocations with an inclusive moment of silence; or
- Drop invocations entirely and simply start the business of each meeting.
For more information, please see the documents in this directory.
¹The Supreme Court upheld invocations at meetings of legislative bodies in Town of Greece v. Galloway, 134 S. Ct. 1811 (2014). However, the Supreme Court clearly stated that the purpose of these invocations must be inclusive: “These ceremonial prayers strive for the idea that people of many faiths may be united in a community of tolerance and devotion.” Id. at 1823. The Supreme Court’s decision would have been different had the town used the prayer opportunity to discriminate against minority religions, as they expressly forbid any “policy or practice of discriminating against minority faiths.” Id. at 1817.
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