“I don’t see why the prayer is an issue,” he said, “as long as you respect everybody’s faith and belief.”
Four of his colleagues — Bell, Edmonson and Commissioners Esteban “Steve” Bovo and Rebeca Sosa — have signed on to the proposal as co-sponsors.
At an internal management and fiscal responsibility committee meeting last week, throngs of supporters packed the commission chambers to support the proposal. Many wore stickers that read “Floridians for Speech Equality,” said Verdugo, who told commissioners that excluding religious speech from meetings was “unfair.”
About 25 people spoke passionately in favor of reinstating prayer. No one spoke against.
“God rules in the affairs of men, so it is wise for us to seek his guidance and counsel,” speaker Teresita Miglio said.
The committee signed off on the measure with a 6-0 vote. The full commission had given it initial approval last month with a 10-1 vote, with Commissioner Sally Heyman the lone opponent.
The ordinance stipulates that no one be allowed to give the invocation more than three times a year. The opening prayer would be open to leaders of all faiths.
But while the ordinance says the invocation will be nondenominational, there’s no way for the county to know in advance what a speaker plans to say, said Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.
That’s what happened before commissioners did away with the invocation, former Commissioner Sorenson said. The prayers were supposed to be nondenominational, but that often wasn’t the case.
“It was divisive and not productive and insensitive to people who didn’t share the Christian faith,” she said. “No matter what the rules were, there were so many ministers who were invited who would invoke ‘Lord Jesus Christ.’ ”
Simon said the ACLU had been focused on election day and has yet to formally question the proposed ordinance.
“I guess we’ll have to do something,” Simon said with a sigh, before the measure goes to the board for a final vote on Dec. 4.