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01.06.07 -- REPORT: Lord's Prayer challenged in McIntosh meetings

By CHER PHILLIPS

It seems a national organization is targeting McIntosh's town meetings due to the recitation of the Lord's Prayer before the town's monthly meetings.

A post made to the McIntosh Mirror (click here) indicates a communication has been directed to the town council regarding the Lord's Prayer said before the town meetings. The communication also mentions a statement Council Vice President Howard Walkup made during the search for a town clerk that he did not want to hire an atheist. According to the letter posted on this blog, McIntosh residents have complained to the Freedom from Religion Foundation.

A message was left with Annie Laurie Gaylor, with the Freedom from Religion Foundation in Madison, Wis. Calls have not been returned at the time of this posting.

Council President Frank Ciotti was not even aware of the letter or e-mail. He said he has not heard anything about it. When read some of the text of the letter, he said the council had a discussion in November 2005, that they would move the Lord's Prayer to the beginning of the meeting, outside the official meetings.

In regards to the comment made by Walkup during the interview process, Ciotti said the council did follow the Civil Rights law during the search for the town clerk.

"I do a lot of Civil Rights training and I am always very cognizant of everyone's rights," Ciotti said, who always works for the state of Florida.

During the search, questions were drafted by Eva Jo Callahan and handed out to all council members. The same questions were asked of each applicant. When the council made its final selection though, all of the final applicants but the local applicant, Debbie Miller, had withdrawn their applications. Audio recordings of these meetings are available on this blog.

Ciotti pointed out that the Marion County Commission also prefaces their meetings with the Lord's Prayer. In fact, video on the Marion County Website shows that the county commissioners begin their meetings with an invocation, which in the Dec. 19, 2006 was in fact a prayer.

For a town not a mile wide, McIntosh has between four and six churches, depending on where the draw the township lines. The hub of the town's social character is based in its religious community.

Late last year, a monument with the Ten Commandments was placed in front of the Dixie County Courthouse. The group who has addressed this letter to the McIntosh Town Council was looking for Dixie County residents to join in a lawsuit to have this monument removed, according to the group's Website. (http://ffrf.org/news/2006/dixie.php)

The Dixie County case drew national attention to the argument on the separation between church and state.

Since the local complaintants are not known, Walkup said he had no comment.

"I'm not gonna even comment on it unless I know who's complaining," he said.


The following is the post left on the McIntosh Mirror Website forum:

January 3, 2007

Mr. Frank Ciotti, Council President McIntosh Town Counsel McIntosh City Hall McIntosh FL 32664 Dear Mr. Ciotti and Members of the Town Counsel:

Our national organization, which works to keep state and church separate, has been contacted by taxpayers and residents of McIntosh over several matters relating to the separation of church and state. We have been informed that the Town Counsel opens its official civic meetings with the Lord’s Prayer. We ask that you drop such denominational prayers from official city functions, or substitute a moment of silence, as enlightened government boards have done around the nation. Prayers are unnecessary, inappropriate, and divisive. Calling upon council members and citizens to rise and pray (even silently) is coercive, embarrassing and beyond the scope of secular city government. Town Counsel members are free to pray privately or to worship on their own time in their own way. They do not need to worship on taxpayers’ time. The city is lending its power and prestige to religion, amounting to a governmental endorsement that excludes the 14% of your population that is nonreligious (Religious Identification Survey 2001). In choosing a biblical prayer, the Counsel compounds the violation by endorsing a particular religion and particular holy book. Citizens of all religions or no religion are compelled to come before you on civic, secular matters: variances, sewers, building permits, restaurant licenses, sidewalk repair, etc. They should not be subjected to a religious show or test, or be expected to demonstrate religious obeisance at a city function. (We fail to see why divine guidance is needed over such earthly matters, anyway.) Christians who know their bible are familiar with the biblical injunction of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, condemning as hypocrisy public prayer. “Enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut the door, pray to thy Father which is in secret” (Matt. 6:5-13). Observing a strict separation of church and state offends nobody, and honors not only the First Amendment, but the very tenets being professed during counsel prayers. We have also been told that at the Oct. 17, 2006 meeting, a recording of which is online, Mr. Howard Walkup, a member of the Town Counsel, stated that he wished to do a background check before hiring a new town clerk: “I want to know if they are an atheist . . . I want to find out because I don’t have to hire one . . . there are some other categories I don’t want to hire. . . I am going to find out.” Someone then replies, “You can’t ask that . . . we will cross that bridge when we get to it.” While it is reassuring that someone at the meeting understands the Civil Rights Act—that non-church employees, especially government employees, cannot discriminate in hiring or firing based on protected categories such as race, color or religion—this allegation, if true, is shocking. The U.S. Constitution, which Mr. Walkup presumably took an oath to uphold, explicitly forbids a religious test for public office. Given the mantle of endorsement to religion which the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer confers, it is perhaps not surprising that such openly unlawful views would be expressed freely at a government meeting! I and the complainants wish to be reassured that the McIntosh Town Counsel will take proactive steps not to violate the Civil Rights Act or to impose an illegal religious test on employees. May we hear from you about these matters at your earliest convenience?

Sincerely

Annie Laurie Gaylor
Co-President Freedom From Religion Foundation
PO Box 750
Madison WI 53701
608/256-5800

posted by Cher @ 2:34 PM,

4 Comments:

At   January 06, 2007 4:07 PM     ,    Blogger lunkhead    said...

Where is McIntosh? Is it near Gainesville? Anyway, stick to your guns on the recitation of the Lord's Prayer.

 
At   January 06, 2007 6:55 PM     ,    Anonymous Anonymous    said...

This is really a no brainer. Drop the praying from the official meeting. If some feel the need to offer up a prayer, do so before attending the meeting.

 
At   January 07, 2007 9:19 AM     ,    Anonymous Anonymous    said...

This is such BS! Again, this is just someone trying to start crap.

My next question is: Are we going to quit saying the Pledge of Allegance, since it says "one nation under God"?

 
At   January 07, 2007 9:01 PM     ,    Anonymous Anonymous    said...

You are right it sounds like someone has ran out of trouble making. This town has alot of church history I feel that there is nothing wrong with it at all.

 

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Editor and Publisher:

I'm Cher From McIntosh, FL I'm a graduate student at the University of Florida working on a master's degree in Mass Communication. While I was finishing my undergrad degree in journalism last year, I reported on McIntosh, Fla. for an in-depth reporting class. I figured that the reporting and the public record files should go somewhere people can access them. Reporters don't report to keep the information they find to themselves. Some of that reporting is included here in a forum that allows response. McIntosh suffers because with no news coverage, the local government and the rumor mill have too much potential to run rampant over residents. I moved to McIntosh in the fall of 1999. My profile

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