The controversial topic opened the door to philosophical discussion on the dais. Some commissioners spoke of their personal religious beliefs, or characterized the current moment of silence policy as a type of censorship. When Heyman offered up a Thomas Jefferson line about separation of church and state, Suarez responded with a John Adams anecdote.
Tuesday’s commission debate was attended by Verdugo and about a dozen Christian Family Coalition members, most of whom sat quietly, waving their hands in unison when a commissioner said something they agreed with. No one spoke against the measure, because public participation is not automatically allowed during the second and final reading of an ordinance.
At a recent committee meeting on the measure, supporters turned out in heavy numbers and voiced their opinions.
Though they were badly outnumbered, Heyman and Moss expressed intense arguments against government-sponsored prayer, which critics say violates church/state separation and often winds up crossing the line into impermissible religious territory.
Heyman called it “discriminatory and unfair to members of the community to be subjected to a religious point of view.” She added: “This legislation is unnecessary. I believe it is dangerous and it exposes us to litigation.”
Moss took a personal approach, recalling verbal attacks against him during a bitter campaign for Miami-Dade’s controversial 1998 human rights bill, which gave gays equal rights. The Christian Coalition fought that ordinance fiercely, openly discriminating against blacks and immigrants in the process, Moss said. He said the Christian Family Coalition is a stepchild of the Christian Coalition.
“That’s a lie!” an audience member shouted in response.
Moss pressed on. “It’s like the nose of the camel under the tent. I have a real concern with the group that was pushing this issue,” he said.
Edmonson, the acting chairperson Tuesday before Sosa takes over in January, said she understood Moss’ concerns, but rather than focusing on the group she was voting with her “conscience.’’
Edmonson added she routinely prays before commission gatherings. “In fact, I asked the Lord this morning, ‘Help me get through this meeting,’ ” she quipped.
In other business Tuesday, commissioners:
• Shot down an attempt by Jordan to remove a list of county employees and their salaries from the county’s website, even after she amended the item to delete names and include just salary and job title. Commissioners Heyman, Diaz and Edmonson voted along with Jordan on the losing side of a 6-4 vote.
As part of a transparency initiative, Gimenez started listing the salaries online earlier this year.
• Gave the nod with a 9-2 vote to construction of a massive warehouse and industrial park in the heart of the old Westview neighborhood, even as residents and their lawyer complained they were not consulted on new plans submitted by the developer, Rosal Westview. Moss and Suarez voted against the item; Bell and Souto were absent.
The plan is to build the warehouse distribution center of more than one million square feet on the site of the former Westview golf course on Northwest 119th Street. The developer was requesting a zoning change from residential to industrial use.