Saturday, March 30, 2019

Four years ago the City of Lake Worth was national news.

The City of Lake Worth Beach
is very big news too.

But what happened four years ago was very different than what is happening now. Four years ago was change but it was very tumultuous and very unexpected. It was a true public relations crisis in every way. It was not very pleasant being a resident of this City at the time.

At one point City Manager Michael Bornstein warned everyone to prepare for another “firestorm” and Commissioner Andy Amoroso became the convenient target for the far-right and others on the City Commission became the target of the far-left.

And all this happened during the 2014–2015 Christmas and Holiday Season.

This City did not go looking for trouble.
It came to us.

This City in 2014 had suddenly became ground zero in the national debate on prayer at public meetings.

The media spotlight was intense and through it all the administration and the majority on the City Commission stayed calm and focused and after many months of hard work everything returned to normal, or as normal as things could have been four years ago. And in retrospect a big lesson was learned as well: why having a public information officer is so important. This City did not have a PIO back in 2014. But imagine if we did?

For some perspective just recently the electorate by a majority has decided to rename this City to Lake Worth Beach. This has been an orderly process all along despite some fuss and polemics that followed Election Day..

But compared to what happened four years ago
Lake Worth Beach is barely making waves.

For example, when you go and visit “Wes Blackman’s Lake Worth YouTube Channel” the most-viewed video is of School Board member Erica Whitfield at City Hall in December 2015; that video after 3½ years is now up 11,725 views. Back in 2014 at the City Commission took a video of an atheist doing an ‘invocation’ at City Hall and within days that video received over 10,000 views.

Then a little later it was 75,000 and then 100,000 and no end in sight. The video had gone viral. Not long afterwards took the video down.

That video had become not the center of public debate; it had become the center of a huge fight between atheists, satanists, agnostics, and Christians and everyone else who felt like joining the fight for whatever reason or just an axe to grind.

And all this was about prayer at public meetings.

Up until late 2014 nearly every Commission meeting began with a prayer. And almost every one was a Christian prayer. Having a Christian prayer at the start of each Commission meeting was a long-held tradition.

But then that tradition ended. But it was the way it ended that caused so much havoc and upheaval in the community.

No doubt had a person or group come to City Hall with an issue of prayer at public meetings things would have certainly changed.

For example, next Tuesday at City Hall will be two public meetings. One will be the swearing-in of Commissioner Herman Robinson to a second term. The event will take about one-half hour. That public meeting will end and the Commission will reconvene at 6:00 for the regularly scheduled City Commission meeting.

At both meetings next Tuesday will be a prayer, some brief words, or a moment of silence.

For those of you who attend Commission meetings this is all mundane now. For those of you who were around in December 2014 you well recall when a particularly insulting atheist came to town. Each year some portend this particular atheist will come back for an encore at City Hall. But he never did.

That atheist could have accomplished a lot. He could have educated the public about atheism and gone about changing the way our City Commission meetings began. But he chose another approach. He chose to insult everyone of faith. 

It took many public meetings, a lot of public debate, and City Attorney Glen Torcivia was kept very busy and so was City Manager Michael Bornstein too, but in the end the process was tweaked and our elected leaders were given another option instead of a prayer in early 2015.

It was a grueling process. But it didn’t have to be.

How and why this happened and also explained later is why some City Commission meetings begin with a prayer or moment of silence and others don’t.

Generally an invocation is a:

“[F]orm of prayer invoking God’s presence, especially one said at the beginning of a religious service or public ceremony.”

A “moment of silence” is just that. A moment of silence.

A prayer or moment of silence only occurs at regular City Commission meetings. There is no prayer or moment of silence at Commission workshops or at any meetings of volunteer advisory boards. In other words at City workshops and volunteer boards the meeting begins following the Pledge of Allegiance.

If the topic of prayer — or topic of no prayer at public meetings — is of special interest to you after reading the blog post below please scroll back up and click on this link for: “Prayer at Local Government Meetings: An Evolving Jurisprudence”.

For many many decades in this City — for as long as anyone can remember prior to 2015 — each and every regularly scheduled meeting of the City Commission began with a prayer. A local pastor or priest of one religious denomination or another would come before the electeds, say a few words and then either stay for a while or leave.

The process now is each one of the electeds — the mayor and commissioners in order — has a choice of options. An elected can give a prayer or choose someone from the community. For example, someone from the Jewish or Guatemalan community or even a Wiccan if they want.

How this all began.

It all started because of one atheist and his very brief visit to our City. The Insulting Atheist Preston Smith (see below) took advantage of the City process for giving invocations and hijacked the stage. He was given his few minutes to speak and his ‘invocation’ was quite insulting to many, especially for those in attendance that day, including myself. Except for a few people it was a lost opportunity.

Mr. Smith had the option of educating the public about atheism that day and explaining what it is and what it is not. But he chose another option and a lot of you here at the time remember that.

It’s interesting to note that since Mr. Smith’s insulting show not a single Atheist from Lake Worth has stepped up to the plate to represent their beliefs, or lack thereof. Why would that be? Possibly some day an Atheist here in the City will take the opportunity to change that image of atheism some still have after Mr. Smith packed up and left town after insulting all of us.

Mr. Smith came to town for an hour or so. Then he left. But things have changed since then and we’re a better City for it.

“He’s coming back for the New Year”, hailed
The Obtuse Blogger (TOB) during our Christmas
holiday season in 2015.

Some were quite thrilled the Insulting Atheist would return to Lake Worth for an encore. He never has. Would it be the shock/surprise factor has worn off?

In conclusion. . .

You see, a problem was created for this City by Mr. Smith, the Insulting Atheist, and the City began the process of fixing it as best they can. The ‘fix’ is not perfect and not everyone is happy about it.

There were and maybe still are a few malcontents in the religious community who are still quite upset about the prospect watching a moment of silence instead of a prayer. But ever since December 2014 they’ve gone completely silent on the issue.

And so it goes in Lake Worth Beach. . .