Indivisible-Mandarin met with our representative for our district

This is the first time I have ever met with a representative at their office.  I was so happy I was with this great group of people!

Indivisible-Mandarin meeting with Aaron Bean

Forward from Indivisible-Mandarin:

Summary of the 2/28/2019 meeting with Senator Aaron Bean written by Richard and Nancy

We met with Sen. Bean at his office in the old Town Hall on Centre Street in Fernandina Beach.

The meeting started at 10:00 am; we expected to have only ten minutes with Sen. Bean, but his next meeting canceled so he gave us a full half hour of his time. Ken Organes started the meeting by explaining that Indivisible Mandarin was a “progressive” non-partisan group consisting of a range of nearly 400 voters–Democrats, Republicans and Independents. He explained that we canvassed, handed out vote by mail forms, made phone calls, registered voters and before the midterm, urged voters to go to the polls. Sen. Bean seemed to get hung up on the term “progressive,” which he admitted connoted “Democrat” to him. He visibly relaxed when he realized we weren’t there to “yell at him.” Ken introduced each of us and we said a word or two about our background. After Ken’s introduction, he passed on the packets containing our one-page bills. The friendly mood was established when Ken told Sen. Bean that we found we could support his bill S 258 Genetic Information Used for Insurance Purposes. He explained why he had introduced this bill and answered a few questions. Ken also established that we had done our homework when he noted that Sen. Bean had received multiple awards from child advocacy groups and had identified on his Senate webpage biography that “family” was his primary interest outside the job.

Having established that we were willing to agree with some of his legislative acts, Sen. Bean now seemed more open to listen to us as we introduced some bills that we expected he would not be willing to entertain. Richard introduced HB 7030 and praised those parts of the bill that proposed funding guidelines for “hardening schools.” But he stated firmly we felt we had to oppose the part of the bill describing how teachers and school personnel would receive training to act as “guardians” in schools. Sen. Bean jumped in at this point and stated that he felt this part of the bill was necessary to securing the safety of students and that the teachers who voluntarily offered to serve as school guardians would receive four months of training in using a weapon (that number does not appear in the bill; it only refers to annual training). Richard outlined our concerns calmly and without heat: that teachers’ and the majority of the public are not in favor of this part of the bill; that teachers are professional educators and are not trained as law enforcement; that we need trained law enforcement who know how to use weapons and engage an active shooter; that these trained guardians must do their duty and not hide outside of the building as they did at Parkland (he agreed with this). We all made comments in support of Richard’s line of reasoning. Susan raised the issue that a few months of training a year is insufficient to enable people (teachers or school personnel) who have no previous experience killing people to aim and kill an armed assailant; that the school districts would be asking teachers to lay their lives on the line. Susan continued to press the issue about whether the extent of gun training is sufficient for training guardians but also those with concealed weapons permits. Senator Bean and Susan went back and forth on this issue and she indicated to him that she would follow through on the discussion through contact with him. Sen. Bean seemed impressed that we had done our homework and stated our positions clearly and passionately. He said that he would consider what we said and re-read the bill carefully.

We still had time for Larry to express his concern that not enough was being done to protect the environment in Florida, although he was pleased to see that Gov. DeSantis has seemed to support anti-fracking legislation. He also raised the problem of climate change especially the rise of sea levels, which threaten our coastal areas and low-lying cities. We also raised the algae problems that occurred this past summer and continues to be a threat to Florida’s tourist industry. Sen. Bean talked knowledgeably and enthusiastically about measures to secure the beaches of Florida against red tide. And he had interesting things to say about legislation that is being prepared to legislate the use of septic tanks because the source of pollution in the water systems (he mentioned Okeechobee) seems to indicate the presence of contaminants “not found in nature” (Viagra, for example) which could only be the result of effluent leaking from septic tanks into the aquifer.

Susan followed by raising the issue of SB 330 on the proposed replacement of “common core” curriculum in schools to one that supports “controversial theories and concepts” which we interpreted as promoting non-scientific approaches to evolution, climate change, etc. (e.g. creationism). Senator Bean just listened to us as we discussed the virtues of believing in science.

We debriefed after the meeting. Our general consensus was that we made some progress towards weakening Sen. Bean’s hold on the stereotype that Indivisibles were aggressive loudmouths. We were courteous and well-prepared. Sen. Bean seemed to enjoy the conversation and offered to meet us in Mandarin the next time we asked for a meeting with him, so we wouldn’t have to drive so far. We recognized that he is deeply conservative and that we had only a few points of connection where we could agree with him. But he opened the door for us to come back and speak with him or his staff. Richard discussed the prospect of his appearance before the entire IM community at one of our monthly meetings. Sen. Bean seemed amenable to this but asked if people would “yell at him” during the meeting and we assured him that we generally don’t yell at anyone and try to have reasonable discussions in order to find our commonalities with those who have different political views from us. He posed for a photo with us and gave us coffee cups before we left. We left Fernandina Beach satisfied with our first encounter with Sen. Bean. Our group did a commendable job of presenting our views to him and doing so in such a way that he would be willing to listen to us further. At this point, we couldn’t expect more from our first encounter with him.

Respectfully submitted,

Nancy Levine

Richard Sutphen

What are our goals regarding immigration laws?

I went to a OneJax community supper.  One Jax sends out an invitation to the community. The limit is 12 people per table.   Controversial topic questions are suggested.  One of the topic questions was immigration. 

BUT after the dinner,  I walked away with more questions than answers.  Here are some of my questions:

1. Is the US overpopulated? If no, then why are we limiting immigration? If yes, then what are the arguments for allowing any immigration? OR to ask the question another way, what are our goals regarding immigration laws?
2. Is the world overpopulated? If yes, do we have an ethical (or perhaps even a selfish) obligation to help reduce world wide overpopulation?
3. Is the US in need of more workers?
4. Are guest worker visas unethical? In other words is restricting a visa to one employer thereby NOT allowing someone to negotiate for better wages unethical?
5. Do the religious clauses of the First Amendment have value?
6. What are the ramifications (pro and con) to birth right citizenship of the 14th amendment? If I correctly understood, someone at our community supper made the claim that the 14th amendment should not automatically grant citizenship to people born in this country and we should work to limit birthright citizenship even more than we do now.
7. Do we have an ethical obligation to help people in other countries? Have our trade, war and/or drug policies harmed people in other countries? If yes, what are our ethical obligations to right that wrong?
8. Do some immigrants (legal and illegal) come here primarily to get on welfare? If I correctly understood, someone at our community supper made the claim that they do and he wanted that kind of immigration stopped.

9. What does assimilation mean? If I correctly understood, someone at our community supper made the claim that immigrants previously made more of an effort to assimilate into our society. I was confused as to what exactly he was advocating for. And I wondered if his view was that diversity isn’t always good. IF someone wants immigrants to be better assimilated into our society, exactly what do they mean? And if assimilation is good thing, what kind of taxpayer funded education opportunities (if any) should be offered?

These articles address the comments made about birthright citizenship at the community supper

Quotes from this  LINK:

Like any other traveler to the U.S., pregnant women must also fill out an ESTA application form prior to arriving in the country. However, women who are intent on giving birth in the U.S. with a tourist visa often also misrepresent or directly lie about the advanced state of their pregnancy in order to connect with groups that help women take advantage of American citizenship laws.  Birth tourism and traveling to the U.S. specifically to give birth are considered technically illegal in the United States. In fact, in March 2015, authorities in California raided a series of “maternity centers” that helped wealthy, pregnant Chinese women travel to the United States to give birth to their children in the hopes of gaining American citizenship. The women reportedly paid $50,000 for travel and lodging in the United States while they waited to have their children.  While there are no set penalties for women who participate in birth tourism, the U.S. is reportedly considering placing limitations on its unconditional birth citizenship. Moreover, if a woman is caught intending to participate in birth tourism, this can lead to other consequences, including being barred for life from the United States.

Quote from this LINK:

Citizenship birthright remains available to any person born on US soil, regardless of the circumstances of his or her birth. A number of attempts have been made, particularly in the last 20 years, to reform this situation. However, these reforms have remained unsuccessful. Most opposition points out that laws eliminating this practice will most likely harm the child more than the parents, making it an unpopular law to try to pass.

The so-called “anchor baby” does not guarantee immediate citizenship for the parents or ensure continued residency in the US for the child. In most instances, while the child will have US citizenship, the child would not be able to live alone in the US until reaching the age of majority. Thus, in most cases, the parent(s) and child are returned to their country of origin, and the child has the right to return to the US as a citizen after turning 18 (or can visit anytime before that).

American emergency care laws say that hospitals cannot turn people away, regardless of nationality or ability to pay.

Quote from this LINK

Ekaterina was one of dozens of Russian birth tourists NBC News spoke to over the past four months about a round-trip journey that costs tens of thousands of dollars and takes them away from home for weeks or months. … Why do they come? … “And the doctors, the level of education,” Kuznetsova added. …. Condo buildings that bear the Trump name are the most popular for the out-of-town obstetric patients,

As president, Donald Trump has indicated he is opposed to so-called chain migration, which gives U.S. citizens the right to sponsor relatives. [Yet Trump’s wife Melania sponsored her parents to come here:]   …. Reshetova came to Miami to have her first child, hiring an agency to help arrange her trip. The services — which can include finding apartments and doctors and obtaining visas — don’t come cheap. She expects to pay close to $50,000, and some packages run as high as $100,000. … There is no official data on birth tourism in the United States. The Center for Immigration Studies, which wants stricter limits on immigration, estimates there are 36,000 babies born in the U.S. to foreign nationals a year, though the numbers could be substantially lower.

This article addresses the comment made about illegal and legal immigrants coming here in order to get welfare benefits.

Quote from this LINK

One of the most effective ploys by those attempting to vilify undocumented immigrants is to assert that those immigrants are stealing benefits from Americans. Donald Trump has deployed this falsehood on multiple occasions both in his speeches and on Twitter long before becoming president. It’s an insinuation quite divorced from reality.   …  Bill Clinton signed a bill over 20 years earlier in 1996: The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, or “IIRIRA.” Congress legislated that not only would undocumented immigrants not receive welfare, but legal immigrants wouldn’t get benefits such as food stamps, Medicaid or money for child assistance until they’ve lived here at least five years and even seven years after their arrival.  …  According to a 2010 report by the American Immigration Council, undocumented immigrants pay as much as $90 billion in taxes but receive just $5 billion in benefits. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) estimated that in 2010 undocumented immigrants paid as much as $10.6 billion in state and local taxes alone.  …  In fact, given IRS estimates that some 50-75 percent of undocumented immigrants pay taxes, we could actually reduce deficits by providing those immigrants a path to legal immigration and enabling them all to pay taxes. That’s right. By ensuring so many undocumented immigrants stay in the shadows, we significantly reduce the amount of available taxable income.

This article addresses the comment that immigrants previously made more of an effort to assimilate into our society.

Quote from this LINK

I will argue here that when Americans say they want immigrants to assimilate, they may think they know what they want, but in fact they don’t understand the concept or its place in our history.  Indeed, if Americans better understood the process of assimilation, they might well ask for something else.  ….  What I propose is to scrutinize what is typically understood by the term assimilation and then contrast it with a more adequate conceptualization of the process. …  Assimilation has several different dimensions—economic, social, cultural, and political.  [The following is a controversial assertion, eh?]  Based on her study of 77 immigrant-impacted American cities from 1877 to 1914, Olzak rejects the conventional view that intergroup conflict is caused by segregation. Instead, she argues that intergroup competition and conflict resulted from occupational desegregation. In other words, tensions are caused not by the isolation of ethnic groups but by the weakening of boundaries and barriers between groups. … Once again, we are reminded that assimilation is a multidimensional process in which gains along one dimension may not be neatly paralleled by progress along others. …  Catholic schools originally established in the nineteenth century by churchmen eager to thwart the assimilation of Catholics.  … we need to get beyond the romance of immigration enthusiasts as well as the melodrama of immigration alarmists. We need to introduce a sense of realism about how we think about these issues  ….  Do we honestly believe that disenfranchised immigrants can be introduced into a dynamic, competitive social and political system without their interests being put at risk?  Our immigration policy is arguably a social experiment with enormous potential benefits, but also enormous risks.

Some of my other thoughts on immigration

Before we make e-verify a requirement, we need to work out the kinks. If we do mandatory e-verify then it needs to be coupled with a path to get people documented. In response to this part of this ARTICLE :

Recently, the Western Growers Association and California Farm Bureau Federation, among others, blocked a bill that would have made E-Verify mandatory, despite several pro-business concessions. As a result, workers from economies devastated by U.S. agriculture will continue to be invited in with the promise of work in order to be cheaply and illegally exploited. Lacking full legal rights, these noncitizens will be impossible to unionize and will be kept in constant fear of being arrested and criminalized.

I really HATE the guest worker visas that tie a worker to one company. If we need immigrants, then the work visa should be renewable and transferable and offer a clear path to citizenship.  Quote from this ARTICLE:

The urgency around that shortage was clear at a congressional hearing last week when senators pressed Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on additional visas for seasonal foreign workers.
A few quotes from this ARTICLE:
When we talk about enforcing immigration laws, it’s important to be quite specific about what we mean.  Sometimes, this immigration enforcement is explicitly violent, like when Border Patrol officials unleash teargas (a chemical weapon banned in warfare) on toddlers, when they rip children from their mothers’ arms, when they kick women huddled on the concrete floors of border cells and scream at them that they are animals. Other times it’s something humdrum and largely invisible: the border guard who calmly tells an asylum seeker at a port of entry that there is “no more room” in the U.S., the judge who silently decides that the terrified person in front of them hasn’t done quite enough to deserve a favorable exercise of discretion, the police officer who has a funny habit of always stopping cars with Hispanic-looking drivers, the countless bureaucrats who review immigration applications and deny them without explanation. All of these acts, from the monstrous to the mundane, have real-world effects on individual people.
Quote from this ARTICLE:
George Washington embraced a vision for an open America that could almost be read today as a form of deep idealism or altruism. “America is open to receive not only the opulent and respectable stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all nations and religions,” he told newly arrived Irishmen in 1783. He assured them they’d be “welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges, if by decency and propriety of conduct they appear to merit the enjoyment.”

Sometimes we decide that we’re going to speak out about the injustices

Reprinted with permission.
This is by Rabbi Merrill Shapiro

The story goes that three frogs were sitting on a lily pad when one decided to jump off to cool herself off in the refreshing waters in the pond. At that point, how many frogs were sitting on the lily pad?

This is a frequently told story by former Mayor of Palm Coast, Jon Netts. A long time educator in Bergen County, New Jersey, Netts would use this story to illustrate an important point.

So….what’s the answer?

Netts, with his charming smile and sparkling eyes would be happy to tell you.

The answer is three!! Were you fooled? Or, did you see where this was headed from the start?

Making a decision to do something just isn’t the same as getting it done! We all, at some time or another, make a decision to do something, but never quite follow through, never quite turn our decision into a reality.

Sometimes we decide that we’re going to speak out about the injustices sustained by non-Christians every time a Jacksonville City Council invocation includes the name of Jesus. But do we follow through? Do we jump into the cool, refreshing water or does a body at rest tend to stay at rest? Think about the non-Christian children who attend those meetings. Do they deserve to have their “leaders” let them know they are only second-class citizens because of their heartfelt beliefs?

Sometimes we decide that we need to weigh-in on laws that discriminate on the basis of religious beliefs. Certainly while you are reading this, our Muslim sisters and brothers would like to see us step up and do something. But, we too often find ourselves just sitting on the lily pad. The inertia in our bones and hearts allows an unconstitutional and downright un-American practice of not permitting Muslim immigrants access to our borders, to become rooted.

After all, the only thing evil needs to triumph is my silence and yours!

Let’s go ask the city council to be inclusive.

I know many wish government personnel would just quit doing prayers out loud at the podium at government meetings.  And maybe some prefer a moment of silence to start off a government meeting so that each person can silently pray in their own way right before the meeting.  BUT barring either one of those two options, it seems to me it might be nice if a group like One Jax would volunteer to co-ordinate invocation speakers. Don’t Republicans love outsourcing? Why not outsource the job of finding invocation speakers to a group who honors and embraces the value of inclusiveness? One Jax may not want to do it but maybe there is a group similar to One Jax who would agree to do it.

From One Jax website:

OneJax is an interfaith organization dedicated to achieving civility, understanding and respect for all through education, dialogue and community-building. Our vision is an inclusive community where difference is welcomed and celebrated.

Jacksonville is a very diverse community. The prior City Council Chaplains were able to find a wide variety of people to give the invocation.  Why won’t Doyle Carter?

Jacksonville city’s attorney seems to knows that what Carter is doing is wrong.  The attorney’s memo dated September 20, 2014 includes the words:

“The Court suggests that nondiscrimination is important ….. This should be taken as a warning that if a legislative body chooses to invite speakers, then it should be careful not to engage in discrimination.

For your convenience, here is the link to the memo:

Do you think the invocation period could  be an opportunity for the city council to embrace inclusiveness? Why did Carter pick so many Baptists to give the invocation?

Here is the list of who Carter has chosen (but please note that these are not the people that ultimately spoke. See updated list on other blog post):

7/25: Pastor McGinley- Old Plank Baptist Church
8/8: Keith Russell- Westside Baptist Church
8/22: Adam Peterson- Rise Church
9/18: Pat Archuleta- Chaplin of Cecil Field POW/MIA and Jesus Loves Veterans Ministry
9/26: Mac Brunson- First Baptist Church of Jacksonville
10/10: Chaplain David Williams from JSO Jails Division
10/24: Dwayne Sumner- Normandy Baptist Church
11/14: Clarence Jarrell- JSO Chaplin
11/28: Bishop Guns- St. Paul’s Missionary Baptist Church
12/12: CM Carter
1/9: Jason Reed- Old Plank Baptist Church- Family Ministries
1/23: Bishop Edward Robinson- Southside Church of God in Christ
2/13: Brunson Clements- Whitehouse Baptist Church
2/27: David Hill- First Ministries
3/13: Ted Corley- Mission First Coast
3/27: Mark Griffin- Wayman Temple
4/10: Tom Messer- Trinity Baptist Church
4/24: Esther Wilder- Westside Family Worship Center- Women’s Ministry
5/8: Gary Wiggins- Evangel Temple
5/22: Fred Newbill: First Timothy Baptist
6/12: Father Tom Willis- Diocese of St. Augustine
6/26: Amy Slater- Sr. Associate St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
end of city council year

Corrections to the list that Carter Doyle gave me:
4/24: Esther Wilder- Westside Family Worship Center- Women’s Ministry  <==That’s the person that Doyle said would offer the invocation BUT Bishop Percy Golden – The Revival Center is listed on the coj website as the invocation speaker for April 24

5/8: Gary Wiggins- Evangel Temple <==That’s the person that Doyle said would offer the invocation BUT Jimmy Wilder – Westside Worship Center is listed on the coj website as the invocation speaker for May 8

5/22: Fred Newbill: First Timothy Baptist  <==That’s the person that Doyle said would offer the invocation BUT Amos Bankhead – Combined Gospel Church is listed on the coj website as the invocation speaker for May 22
6/12: Father Tom Willis- Diocese of St. Augustine<==That’s the person that Doyle said would offer the invocation BUT Dr. Winston Butler – Dinsmore Baptist Church is listed on the coj website as the invocation speaker for June 12 th.
6/26: Amy Slater- Sr. Associate St. Mary’s Episcopal Church<==That’s the person that Doyle said would offer the invocation BUT Rodney Kelly – West Jacksonville   Church is listed on the coj website as the invocation speaker for June 26th.

Provocative first line and Jeff Sessions by Rabbi Shapiro

This article is by Rabbi Shapiro

Of course secular people don’t have as good a claim to understanding the truth as a person who is religious!

Is that what Jeff Sessions thinks?  And if so, what will he do with that belief system as Attorney General?

As U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) was questioning U.S. Attorney General nominee Senator Jeff Sessions, during confirmation hearings, the New Englander was led to ask whether “secular” attorneys working in the federal government should have reason to worry.  Whitehouse asked Sessions if “secular” attorneys have “just as good a claim to understanding the truth as a person who is religious?”

In the purported belief system of Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) all human beings are created in the image of God. Even human beings who don’t believe there is a God are created in the Divine image.  Certainly God has a pretty good claim on understanding the truth.  Thus, it should follow, that the humans, secular or religious, created in God’s Divine image, should also have a pretty good claim to understanding the truth.

So, Senator Sessions, do secular attorneys, secular people, have “just as good a claim to understanding the truth as a person who is religious?”

“Well, I’m not sure,” responded the Senator from Alabama.

Not sure???!!!  How can it be that being religious makes you more privy to the truth than being secular?

Recently, the researchers at the Pew Research Center asked 1,003 U.S. adults what characteristics make someone “truly American.” Seventy percent of the respondents felt that speaking English was very important were someone to be “truly American.”  Forty-five percent felt that sharing American customs and traditions was very important.  Thirty-two percent felt that “Being a Christian” was very important.  Another 19% felt that “Being a Christian” was “somewhat important” to being “truly American.”

Thus, lots and lots of Americans think our country has a “leg up” on accessing the truth.  Many Americans feel that “Being a Christian” gives one an advantage to accessing the truth.

Somehow, we need to begin to inform ourselves about our more narrow-minded friends and neighbors and then we need to try to understand our more narrow-minded friends and neighbors. We should be erecting bridges instead of building walls.  We need to help  these narrow-minded among us understand that there is another way to see things, a different way to know the truth.

As you see, we have a lot of work to do!

Merrill Shapiro

Holiday Displays in the Capitol building

The display by a Catholic organization was on the lobby floor near the entry way into the Capitol building. The First Coast Freethought Society display was on the fifth floor leading into the Senate chambers. In order to ensure there isn’t an appearance that the government is favoring one religion over another, all the displays should be together.   The Catholic display was put in a position to be seen by all visitors.  The First Coast Freethought Society’s display would only be seen by people visiting the 5th floor.  Why weren’t all the displays put together to demonstrate the plurality of Florida’s citizenry?


Do No Harm

do no harm act

You can find your rep at this LINK

You can find what the NAACP is saying about H.R 5272 at this LINK

You can find other statements of support at this LINK

“Freedom of religion is a fundamental right that protects all Americans, but this freedom does not include the right to restrict or control the behavior of others,” said Nicholas Little, Vice-President and General Counsel for the Center for Inquiry. “At its inception, CFI was one of very few voices cautioning that RFRA would permit religiously motivated discrimination, whether against religious minorities, the non-religious, women, or LGBTQ Americans. Sadly, we were right. But this fix [H.R. 5272] would help ensure that the law could no longer be used as a weapon to impose one person’s religious beliefs on other unwilling parties.”  That quote is from this LINK

Link to the bill

Earl responds to the “as interesting as a hamburger without meat” comment

Earl submitted an article to the Folio. See below.

He also wrote another article about this issue:

To help you with the history of this, here is my blog post from last year when Yarborough was Jacksonville city council president:

And at this blog is a list of who has given the invocation during Greg Anderson’s term as council president:

Since the Jacksonville city council has adopted the rotation scheme, I wish more people would apply to give the invocation. Jacksonville residents can do that by calling the representative from their district, one of the at-large city council members or the office of the city council president.

Forward from Earl:
This is the version I wrote for Folio asking them to please consider the following as a back page editorial:

I gave an invocation at the March 22nd Jacksonville City Council meeting. It was the first time a known atheist has given the invocation. It was a secular invocation free from any mention of a god or gods.

AG Gancarski (,15008 ) said my invocation was about as interesting as a hamburger without any meat. But most people said it was thought-provoking, stimulating, and inspiring.
I knew what needed to be said when I first contemplated giving an invocation at a City Council meeting. I needed to write something simple and succinct that would resonate in the hearts and minds of anyone but a sociopath or a psychopath.

The City of Jacksonville is similar to much of the United States in many ways, but one way in particular. It is a city full of immigrants, descendants of immigrants, black and white, gay and straight, liberal and conservative, religious and non-religious, and everything else you can imagine. It is not a city made up of white and various shades of white, or Protestantism and various denominations of Protestantism. It is a city consisting of every flavor and essence of humanity, with as many worldviews as hamburger joints.

In my invocation I quoted a few lines of The New Colossus, a poem written by Emma Lazarus, which can be found on the Statue of Liberty. By putting Emma Lazarus’ poem on the pedestal at the base of the Statue of Liberty, our country invited anyone and everyone not only to come here and live among us, but come here and enjoy the freedoms guaranteed to all of us by our Constitution.

There is a subset of the population of this country who need to be constantly reminded that plurality is the rule, not the exception, and freedom and equal rights are not just for a majority of the population.

The first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, more commonly expressed as the Bill of Rights, specifically address a laundry list of freedoms guaranteed to all citizens. The reason for creating the Bill of Rights was a no brainer for the framers of the Constitution. The majority should never infringe upon the rights of the minority.

We have examples of the tyranny of the majority playing out practically every week in this country. The Governor of the State of Georgia recently vetoed a bill that would have allowed people to refuse to hire potential employees, refuse to rent property, or refuse to provide education or charitable services based on religious beliefs. Oh and let’s not forget refusing to bake wedding cakes based on religious beliefs. The god of Christianity is very clear about wedding cakes for the LGBT folks: If you ain’t straight, no cake for you!

Mississippi’s Governor Phil Bryant recently signed into law the Protecting Freedom of Conscience From Government Discrimination Act, a law which allows businesses to refuse services to gay couples based on religious objections, which includes wedding cakes. This was a direct reaction to the Obergefell v Hodges Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage. Simply and succinctly, the new Mississippi law is anti-LGBT legislation.

HB 2 is North Carolina’s version of the anti-LGBT legislation sweeping the country. Called Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, the new North Carolina law requires transgender people to use public restrooms according to the biological sex on their birth certificates. This was a reaction to a recently enacted LGBT protection law in Charlotte, North Carolina where city leaders addressed the need for better bathroom accommodations for transgender individuals. HB 2 was a wakeup call to progressive communities. Get in line, or we (the state) will strip you of any power you thought you possessed.

HB 2 bans local governments from passing any laws protecting gay and transgender people, the final nail in the coffin for Charlotte or any other city in North Carolina wanting to adopt LGBT protection laws. This ban on LGBT protection laws wiped out nearly two dozen local laws which include LGBT protection. HB 2 is causing a lot discussion on local and national news shows and backlash in the business sector about LGBT protection laws, but there’s more.

HB 2 included a sentence that slipped by a lot of folks. It reads: No person may bring any civil action based upon the public policy expressed herein. In other words, you cannot sue in a state court if you feel you have been discriminated against. Without going into too much detail, this new law set back civil rights by more than a half century, especially worker’s rights and race discrimination. The day I submitted this piece for publication, the Governor of North Carolina was slicing and dicing his new anti-LGBT law in an effort to stop the pullout of major business interests from his state.

What North Carolina did in HB 2 was exactly the sort of stuff that I wanted to indirectly address in my invocation.

Pointing out the Emma Lazarus poem at the bottom of the Statue of Liberty was meant as a reminder that we as a nation cannot invite people to our country and then deny them the rights all other citizens are guaranteed.

Bringing up the fundamental reason James Madison had for writing the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — the idea that government must have a set of irreversible constitutional mandates in place to ensure the majority can never take away the rights of any minority — was the only way to point out that a religious belief should never usurp the rights guaranteed to us by our Constitution. That is why the First Amendment states emphatically that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. Establishment is a noun, not a verb. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment is saying Congress shall not favor religious establishments.

I didn’t want my invocation to sound like those given at previous meetings. Appealing to human intellect, empathy, cooperation and team work was a way to point out that if you need something accomplished, tap into the talent humanity possesses.

The City of Jacksonville is struggling to add LGBT protection to its Human Rights Ordinance. In my invocation, I wanted to promote respect for all people, not just white, straight, male, Anglo-Saxon Protestants, but most of all, I wanted to promote fairness and freedom. Those may be boring and dull concepts if you’re a fascist or selfish or don’t play well with others, but to most of us they are concepts near and dear to our hearts, and always on our minds.

I’ve heard the naysayer’s cake baking argument. A business should have the right to refuse service to anyone the business deems as an undesirable customer. No shoes, no shirt, no service. We all get that. But what happens when an establishment in the business of baking wedding cakes hangs a sign in the window that says no service to black people? Or Hispanics? Or Jews, Muslims, and women? You’d never get away with it. Why is a business prohibited from saying no service to blacks, but it is acceptable to say no service to LGBT’s?

I had a message embedded in my invocation. It was an appeal to the members of the Jacksonville City Council to do the right thing regarding LGBT rights: Let them eat cake.

RFRA in Florida

Click here to write your rep about this issue

Summary of HB 401 currently before the Florida legislature:   Groups can be exempt from the laws that others must follow IF they say they have an objection to the law based on a moral conviction.

What if the person’s moral compass has lost direction?   What if the person’s moral conviction is advocating for an act that will harm or deny benefits to OTHERS?

Quote from this Link to what AU is saying about RFRA  : The federal RFRA was meant to be a shield to safeguard religious freedom, not a sword to be used to harm others.  Because people and corporations have been trying to use RFRA in recent years as a way to take away the rights of someone else, however, AU believes RFRA must be fixed.

Link to current Florida RFRA

Link to an article about the bill seeking to expand RFRA in Florida

Link to proposed bill that will expand RFRA in Florida

Why do we want laws on the books that exempt some groups?  Why not fair play?  If the law or rule isn’t worthwhile, why do any of us have to follow it?  Simple example:  If you want to allow hijabs in the work place, then allow everyone to wear a hat or other head garment.  Why not?  What’s the harm?  It is just a hat or scarf.

Quote from Marci Hamilton’s book God vs. The Gavel: At the same time,  Schools must guard against enforcing their dress codes unevenly. If the school is willing to wink at the kid wearing a hat for fun, it cannot then punish the girl who shows up In a hijab.

There should be a different level of scrunity when your behavior harms or deprives others of benefits that most other people receive.  IF you don’t want to fill prescriptions for birth control because you have a moral conviction against birth control then don’t become a pharmacist.    If you don’t want to serve alcohol because of your moral convictions, then don’t apply for a job that includes that as part of the job duties.   If you don’t want to marry people that don’t follow your own moral convictions, then don’t apply for a job that includes issuing marriage licenses as part of the job duties.

I am a feminist.   Equal rights.   BUT I don’t think that should mean that a woman who can’t do heavy lifting should apply for a job that requires heavy lifting then ask for an exemption.   Please don’t misinterpret me.  I know plenty of women can do heavy lifting.   All I am trying to say is that IF your job conflicts with your moral convictions, then get another job.  Am I wrong?  If so, please tell me why.

I understand as a country that we are afraid of others persecuting us for our beliefs.   That feeling makes us passionate about the religious liberty (or freedom of conscious) clause in the First Amendment.   I am passionate about that also.  BUT there is a limit.   You shouldn’t be able to use it to harm others or deny others benefits.

Marci Hamilton in her article states: “The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”) has allowed religious accommodation to harm too many affected by the believers’ conduct.”

If someone else’s religion scares you, then shouldn’t you fight for stronger church/state separation?  Shouldn’t you fight to make sure everyone follows the laws that are designed to protect the people?

Please know WHY RFRA needs to be fixed so that it is not used to harm or deprive others of benefits that most people are free to enjoy.  Read one of Marci Hamilton’s books about the issue.  She gives lots of examples.

Link to New York Times article written by Marci Hamilton

Perhaps because the First Amendment is so vague, we need some form of RFRA BUT it shouldn’t be used to harm people. It should be used for the government to encourage individuals to be more loving and STOP discriminating based on sex, race, religion, or sexual orientation. Marci gives an example of a child not being allowed to wear the Star of David but other kids being able to wear a cross at school. Rather than treating different religions differently, the school could have taken the opportunity to talk about the First Amendment and the desire of the founders of our country to escape from religious persecution so prevalent at the time our country was founded