Letter to Commissioners and Mayor advises that “divisive” policy already subject of litigation across country

November 28, 2012

ACLU of Florida Media Office,786-363-2737, media@aclufl.org

MIAMI - The ACLU of Florida today urged the Miami-Dade County Commission not to adopt a proposed ordinance that would allow for prayers to be spoken at the beginning of Commission meetings. In a letter signed by ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon and ACLU of Florida Greater Miami Chapter President John de Leon and sent to Commissioners, Mayor Gimenez and the County Attorney, the organization urged the Commission to retain the current moment of silence policy, and warned that the proposed ordinance is “divisive,” and could open the county up to litigation.

Several years ago, the commission moved to a practice of having a moment of silence at the start of Commission meetings for individuals to engage in silent prayer or reflection, a move which the ACLU calls an observation of “respect” for the “great diversity of our community.” The proposed policy of allowing for government-sponsored religious prayer at meetings of government agencies is currently the subject of litigation across the country.

From the letter:

Inevitably, as the Commission has experienced in the past, some religious leader will offer an invocation that may genuinely be intended not to “advance any particular faith,” but which will not be so interpreted by members of the community who are in attendance and who may be made to feel uncomfortable, marginalized and like second-class citizens of our community because their religious views differ from those offered by the Commission-invited religious leader.


It was commendable, several years ago, that the Commission moved to the practice of a moment of silence before meetings, for prayer or reflection, rather than spoken prayer. That practice respects the diversity of our community and is less likely to make any member of our community feel uncomfortable because their religious beliefs are not those that are being promoted at the particular meeting of the governmental body. Rather, it is a gesture of respect to every member of the community -- an invitation to pray (or not) silently, each in his or her own way.

We urge the Commission to not change its current practice and to reject the proposed Ordinance -- not because it is an open invitation to litigation, but because the proposed ordinance is inconsistent with the richly diverse community that we celebrate in Miami-Dade County. Indeed, it is hard to think of a more racially, ethnically and religiously diverse community in America.

Our community is the face of the emerging new America; our diversity is not served by the divisive practice of government-invited, spoken prayer at Commission meetings and hearings.

A copy of the full letter is available here:

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