St Augustine is a city where history is all around us — centuries of it; from the time of the discovery of La Florida in 1513, the settlement of our city in 1565, through domestic wars, and wars of conscience, led by those who have participated, both as good citizen-soldiers, as well as elected government officials.
We know that both Ponce de Leon and Pedro Menendez de Aviles brought explorers who were Catholic, protestant Christians, and Jews. Most had no idea what they were going to find for themselves, or their families, when they arrived; but, many were willing to face the dangers of life-threatening disease, death at the hands of indigenous natives, and indentured servitude, for the prospects of new world freedoms not granted by monarchs in their nations of origin.
Still, hundreds of years thereafter, when the American experiment in democracy took root, through a representative government elected by, and accountable to, the people, our ancestors still called on the name of the one true God to guide their hands in all that they were to do. None of us are any the worse for that invocation of the name of God; either in our Declaration of Independence, Constitution, our nation’s slogan, the Great Seal of the United States of America, or otherwise.
Fast forward from 1776 a couple of hundred more years.
In an effort to apparently be politically correct, to the extreme, activist groups working to advance their own agenda, are attempting to trample out the vineyards where the grapes of wrath are stored, declaring that all evidence of religion, and reference to our God, must be absent from any assembly where the business of the people of our nation is conducted.
Monday, a “Festivus” tree — a single, 5′ stack of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer cans, was delivered to the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee, making a political statement on behalf of members of the American Humanist Association. This irreverent display was erected on the heels of last week’s installation of a Menorah as well as a manger scene representing the Jewish and Christian beliefs of our forefathers, and the majority of the members of our state legislature, still.
Unfortunately, groups like American Atheists, and Atheists of Florida, are not content with the protection they receive from the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution, and the First Amendment, that affords them the ability to express their own belief system (or, rather, lack thereof) by displaying their beer-can Festivus tree.
The Lakeland City Commission has been opening its meetings with an invocation since 1951. Both the City of St Augustine and St Johns County take a moment to allow a volunteer pastor, lay minister, priest, or rabbi, to ask God’s hand in guiding the actions to be taken by their respective bodies; including elected politicians, governmental department heads, and members of their staff.
However; in Lakeland, it has only been since March 2010 that the method of selecting speakers to be invited to deliver the invocation has had “the blessing”, so to speak, of the courts — and neither St Augustine nor St Johns County have ever been challenged in court on this issue.
After a ruling that the Lakeland process was not un-constitutional, Judge Arthur Alarcon wrote for the District Court of Appeals that the policies and practices, in use since 2010, do not have the effect of affiliating the Lakeland City Commission with any discrete faith or belief.
When Lakeland Mayor, Gow Fields, learned of the court’s ruling in April, he said a very important message was delivered, “The Constitution applies to those that want to exercise their right to offer an invocation for heavenly guidance for their elected officials.”
Despite the Lakeland ruling against Atheists of Florida, another organization, American Humanist Association, is now threatening to sue Martin County if it continues its current “religious invocation” practices at county commission meetings.
The very bedrock of this nation is our freedom OF religion — not freedom FROM religion. You may hold ANY religious belief you choose — or, you may choose to hold NO religious belief, but that DOES NOT entitle you to squelch my freedom to express my own, personal belief in God, or to pray, openly, that he spread his grace on those who represent the people in our government.
As they say, In God We Trust — some of those politicians, not so much.