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:

Why did Carter pick so many Baptists to give the invocation? Is it because Carter is a Baptist? There is one Catholic on the list to give an invocation.   No Jews. No Humanists.  No Buddhists.  No Hindus.  No Sikhs.   No Unitarians.   Why not?

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:

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

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


John Stuart Mill quote

Yet so natural to mankind is intolerance in whatever they really care about, that religious freedom has hardly anywhere been practically realized, except where religious indifference, which dislikes to have its peace disturbed by theological quarrels, has added its weight to the scale. In the minds of almost all religious persons, even in the most tolerant countries, the duty of toleration is admitted with tacit reserves. One person will bear with dissent in matters of church government, but not of dogma; another can tolerate everybody, short of a Papist or an Unitarian; another, every one who believes in revealed religion; a few extend their charity a little further, but stop at the belief in a God and in a future state. Wherever the sentiment of the majority is still genuine and intense, it is found to have abated little of its claim to be obeyed.

You can find the complete essay at the link:

Melissa Ross’s article from

Here is a great article about the issue from

April 29, 2015
By Melissa Ross

He hasn’t even been sworn in yet, but incoming Jacksonville City
Council President Greg Anderson is already experiencing the headaches
of leadership.

Susan Aertker has emailed Anderson to ask him to (once again) change
the rules about Council meetings and sectarian vs. inclusive prayers
during the invocation.

Under outgoing City Council President Clay Yarborough, the invocation
period has always been a Christian prayer. This practice has long
been controversial in Jacksonville, which has Bible Belt roots but in
the 21st century, has become increasingly diverse. And the matter
flares up time and again -depending on who leads the Council.

Writes Aertker, “Based on Yarborough’s words in interviews and based
on the fact that the two people that have given the invocation at the
city council meetings since Yarborough became council president said
“in Jesus’ name, we pray”, one can conclude that Yarborough will only
let people (that agree to say those words) give the invocation. In my
view Yarborough is proselytizing his own particular faith by requiring
that “in Jesus’ name we pray” be said at council meetings. I believe
that violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment and the
ruling in Greece v. Galloway.”

Under former Council President Jack Webb, (and with pressure from the
ACLU) the policy regarding the invocation during City Council meetings
was changed, but it wasn’t binding to future council presidents.

Then as Aertker points out, “After Webb left office, Bill Bishop
became Council President and appointed Yarborough as chaplain. Of
course, Yarborough said “in Jesus’ name we pray” while he was
chaplain. After Bishop, Bill Gulliford became Council President and
he did have some diversity during the invocation period. Gulliford
even had a flute player one time which perhaps represented the
non-religious invocation. Yarborough became Council President after
Gulliford. As Yarborough has said, he only allows people who say “in
Jesus’ name we pray” to give the invocation while he has been Council

In an interview he gave to the Florida Times-Union Yarborough said he
believed in Christian prayer in public buildings, telling the T-U’s
Mark Woods, “The scripture teaches that unless one prays in the name
of Jesus Christ, and since he is our only way to the Father, that that
is how one should pray. And that is what I believe.”

Aertker closes with a link to petition asking for a
change in invocation rules.