Why is Judge Danny Chambers Acting as Denying Judge for Giving Legislative Invocations? Somervell County Salon-Glen Rose, Rainbow, Nemo, Glass....Texas

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Why is Judge Danny Chambers Acting as Denying Judge for Giving Legislative Invocations?

11 July 2016 at 3:14:58 PM

I want to do an invocation at the Somervell County Commissioners court meeting. I am an atheist. I have previously asked for a copy of the invocation policy at commissioners meetings (there is not one). I have sent several different emails to Judge Danny Chambers regarding this without the courtesy of a reply from him; in all instances I had to approach him to get an answer. 

Email #1

Sent: Thursday, May 12, 2016 1:02 PM
To: cojudge@co.somervell.tx.us
Subject: Question re: Prayer at government meetings

Hi, Danny

I am requesting that the practice of having a Somervell County commissioner do a prayer (such as Larry or John)  from the dais be stopped and the practice be replaced by an inclusive call for guest speakers who may direct an invocation towards the elected.  I asked a couple of months of Michelle whether the Commissioners Court has a prayer policy and was told that one didn’t exist. For those in the community who would like to offer an invocation, would like to know what the policy is or request that you all make one.

For reference, here is a link to the recent Supreme Court decision on government prayer, Town of Greece vs Galloway www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/12-696_bpm1.pdf - Note that the circumstances were that govt officials did not do the invocations themselves, but had guest and community members, with a range of any religion to atheists. The Court said

The analysis would be different if town board members directed the public to participate in the prayers, singled out dissidents for oppobrium,or indicated that their decisions might be influenced by a person's acquiescence in the prayer opportunity. ... Although board members themselves stood, bowed their heads, or made the sign of the cross during the prayer, they at no point solicited similar gestures by the public. Respondents point to several occasions where audience members were asked to rise for the prayer. These requests, however, came not from town leaders but from the guest ministers, who presumably are accustomed to directing their congregations in this way and might have done so thinking the action was inclusive, not coercive.... In the general course legislative bodies do not engage in impermissible coercion merely by exposing constituents to prayer they would rather not hear and in which they need not participate. ... board members and constitutuents are 'free to enter and leave with little comment and for any number of reasons'. ..

Note also that the SCOTUS indicated that anyone offended by a prayer (again, given by guests), could leave the room but have no right, basically, not to be offended. That is different than a government official essentially establishing religion from the dais.

I would appreciate a reply after you have had a chance to consider this.

Thank you

Danny Chambers told me in a face to face conversation that he thought he would do an open call into the audience to ask for volunteers. And, appreciating this, the practice of having elected govt officials lead prayer from the dais has stopped. However, at the next regular meeting, Dennis Moore did the invocation.  I assume he was asked because he left pretty quickly after he did it.  I did not think it was appropriate for Judge Chambers to tell Dennis to "lead us in prayer". 

Email #2 on June 13, 2016

Sent: Monday, June 13, 2016 11:36 AM
To: cojudge@co.somervell.tx.us
Subject: I would like to give an invocation at an upcoming commissioners Court meeting

Hi, Danny

I really do appreciate that you changed the format of the invocation from having the court do it to having participants attending the meeting. I’m guessing that in case today of Dennis Moore that he was asked in advance or offered in advance. My question therefore is, what do I need to do to be the person giving the invocation at an upcoming meeting? Ask you? Is there a list?

Thank you

Again. no reply. After a few weeks went on, I sent him an additional email

Sent: Wednesday, June 29, 2016 7:22 AM
To: cojudge@co.somervell.tx.us
Subject: 2nd request: FW: I would like to give an invocation at an upcoming commissioners Court meeting

Hi, Danny

Asking again what specifically I need to do to be the person giving the invocation at an upcoming meeting. I had done an open records request a few months ago to find out if there was a policy/procedure regarding invocation at commissioners meetings and there isn’t one. At the last regular Somervell County Commissioners Court meeting Dennis Moore gave the invocation. You had indicated you might ask if anyone in the audience wanted to do it, but apparently it was pre-arranged with Moore to do it. Again, is there a list? If so, how do I get on that list and where is the list publicized? If not, then what exactly do I need to do?

Thank you

No reply

Invocation from today July 11 2016


I went up to the dais after the meeting today to ask Danny about this. I told him I had sent him two emails without a reply and I felt that he was deliberately ignoring me. I am paraphrasing the conversation after this. I told him I wanted to do an invocation for the court. He told me he had created a list of religious entities that he has invited and atheists are not on it. He said he didn't want atheists doing the invocation because he was concerned they would make a mockery of the court. I said, no, that's not right, I would never do that.He said he didn't understand why atheists would want to do an invocation anyway since they don't believe in god. I told him an invocation of believers or unbelievers can be an expression ot good will and wishes to the commissioners court to make wise decisions. I then asked him yes or no. He said no. I said, well, I want you to know I am going to fight you on this. He said he wanted it made clear that it is an atheist wanting to do the invocation. I told him I was not hiding anything and am happy to do that.

The following screen shots are from Town of Greece v Galloway Supreme Court case

So, first, the question is, can Judge Chambers discriminate and arbitrarily say who can do an invocation and who cannot, according to a list that he solicits? 

2. Does Judge Chambers ask the people who are on that list what it is they are going to say and whether it will mock the commisisoners court? If not, why is he making an exception for an atheist invocation? Can he really be in control of say, a christian who might want to call down damnation and hellfire on the audience? I don't think I even should have been told that his concern would be that I might do a mockery of the court through an invocation. I believe I have always been respectful in every govt meeting I have attended, there is no reason to assume I would not continue to  be, but if he is going to assume that someone, just becuase of being an atheist, which ONLY MEANS I don't believe in any gods, is going to behave irresponsibily, then seems to me he that should be a requiisite for ANY invocation giver. Even then, however, that is not what the Supreme Court said. Notice

"Once (government) invites prayer into the public sphere, government must permit a prayer giver to address his or her own God or gods as conscience dictates, unfettered by what an administrator or judge considers to be nonsectarian"

Notice that the court suggests here that if anyone used the forum for invocation for wrongful purposes, the REMEDY would be to file suit and have the Supreme Court look at that.

3. If Judge Chambers is so concerned with discriminating against citizens or trying to pre-certify what a giver will say re: the subject of invocations, then perhaps there shoudl be no invocation at all.

4. Danny Chambers told me explicitly to make sure I clearly show that I'm an atheist asking to do an invocation. Of course, and I told him I"m not hding anything, I think a lot of people in this town know that I'm an atheist. However, should a judge concern himself with that someone's belief or non-belief structure is as a pre-requisite for whether an invocation can be given? In the Town of Greece case, the invocation givers not only included atheist, but also Wiccan, Ba'Hai and Jews. While I don't walk around with a neon sign on my forehead announcing that I'm an atheist, and it certainly doesn't come up in most conversations, I have never hidden the fact and have a number of articles on my blog regarding this. I should not have to justify or be pre-approved according to Chamber's personal standards, whether I pass an approval bar based on my non-belief. Perhaps Mr Chambers, in contradiction to what it says on p 13 of the case would "act as supervisors and censors of religious speech, a rule that would involve government in religious matters to a far greater degree than is the case under the town's current practice of neither editing or approving prayers in advance nor criticizing their content after the fact". 

5.. Is it, if not a common practice, at least a regular occurrence to have atheist invocations at government meetings? Yes. as noted above, the Town of Greece never turned away ANY citizen who wanted to offer an invocation, including non-believers

Seems to me the commissioners court can ill afford lawsuit expenses fighting an issue that has already been dealt with by the Supreme Court. 

Update: FFRF's attorney has sent a letter to Andrew Lucas, Somervell County Attorney

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1 - Homegrown Matters   12 Jul 2016 @ 12:43:44 AM 

I am a firm believer in the First Amendment Rght's of Every American Citizen, whether Atheist, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, etc., to be present and included in any Governmental ( be it county, local, state federal, etc.,,, )Invocation, as long as, any and all are respectful and considerate of everyone attending the ceremony. It is not my job to judge anyone whom disagree's with me about faith. I personally am a Christian, and in "my perfect world" everyone would be a Christian. But, it is not a perfect world! If we have learned nothing about the world we live in after last week's attack on Dallas PD, shame on us! That tragedy alone set this Country two steps back! All because a radical, believed he was above the law and his focus was solely on "Black Lives Matter, instead of All Lives Matter." We are a Country of Diversity, yet, we refuse to allow ourselves to admit when we are wrong, and judgment is what we turn too. Even though we know it's a sin! So many good, honest, and meek people believe that "Atheist" are evil. That's not true! They simply don't believe in "God, Supreme Being, or a Savior." As Crristians we are asked to do one basic thing; "that's to pray for them." Not judge them! This is what our Country was founded on, "Freedom of Speech and the Right to Religious Beliefs or not, that's it, whether we agree with them or not!" We are all being tested daily, we must be able to find common ground, otherwise we are all doomed. This world is overwhelmed with "Hate," and one thing we all know is that hate breeds more hate. We should all be more kind and considerate of other people's feelings and opinions. I have friends that claim to be Atheist, they are intelligent, respectful, and good hearted people. If they didn't tell you that they were Atheist, you would never know it! They are not looking to start a movement of Atheists to overthrow this Country, they don't  believe in Satan either, They are simply religion-less.Their purpose is not to bash anyone of faith, simply to be included which is their Legal, Country and God given Right according to Our Constitution! God Bless America, and let the healing begin!!! 

2 - Confused   12 Jul 2016 @ 6:40:19 AM 

just courious if an atheist such as yourself was to say the prayer, who would u pray to? 

3 - salon   12 Jul 2016 @ 7:00:14 AM 

Invocations and prayers do not require direction or supplication to gods. Miriam Webster Dictionary on invocation "the act of mentioning or referring to someone or something in support of your ideas : the act of invoking something" Prayer: "an earnest hope or wish". From page 14 of Town of Greece v Galloway

"The relevant constraint derives from its place at the opening of legislative sessions, where it is meant to lend gravity to the occasion and reflect values long part of the Nation's heritage. Prayer that is solemn and respectful in tone, that invites lawmakers to reflect upon shared ideals and common ends before they engage in the fractious business of governing, serves that legitimate function". 

p 15

It is thus possible to discern in the prayers offered to Congress a community of theme and tone. While these prayers vary in their degree of religiosity, they often seek peace for the Nation, wisdeom for its lawmakers and justice for its people, values that count as universal and that are embodied not only in religious traditions but in our founding documents and laws"

In the case mentioned, the Town of Greece "maintained that a minister or layperson of any persuasion, including an atheist, could give the invocation". In fact, here is video of an atheist, in solemn and respectful tones, delivering the invocation for the Town of Greece, and does not include calling upon gods.

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4 - Homegrown Matters   12 Jul 2016 @ 1:48:41 PM 

Just a question for "Confused?" Why is it that an Invocation is always considered a prayer? The fact is that many invocations are done with humor, basic principles about following your dreams, hard work, and self sacrifice to be all you can be, as well as coming together as a community.." Many politicians give invocations at Graduations and bypass using religion, instead using the ability of instilling confidence in the tasks that are ahead. The people that are being given the invocation, may feel. spiritually inspired by the invocation, ( even if it's given by an Atheist ) that's between them and their beliefs. God works in mysterious ways, so let's not discount an invocations merely because we know that someone giving it is an Atheist, Religious, Racist, or a Biggot. As long as the message is positive and productive and dosen't infringe on the right's and beliefs of other's ( whether they are Baptists, Methodist, Atheists, or Nondenominational ), it should be respected and allowed to be openly given by anyone, no matter their race, beliefs, or financial status. We have got to find common ground, our society is on a collision course with disaster written all over it! Just a back note--- Can this County really afford a lawsuit that we know beyond doubt that it will lose? Please, stop being afraid of thing's that you misunderstand. I am a Christian, I don't fear an Atheist opinion, God walks with me, and the last thing an Atheist wants to discuss is religion, because they simply aren't interested and don't believe in religion. So what is the problem?  

5 - salon   14 Jul 2016 @ 5:44:09 PM 

Adding with this. I believe everyone is an atheist about *some* god(s). Who believes in Zeus? Does everyone believe in Allah? the ONLY thing being an atheist means to me is that I do not believe that god(s) exist now as living viable entities in some form. I also do not believe that satan exists, fairies, unicorns, that the moon is made of green cheese, or that the world is flat. I have a strong sense of right and wrong, strive to be ethical and am, moreover, a citizen of the United States, just as much an American as anyone else under the constitution. 

Mr Chambers, despite having sworn to uphold the constitution, which includes the rulings of the United States of America Supreme Court, is purposely deciding to discriminate against me. As I said, some things I can overlook but I can't overlook being treated differently not on any reasonable basis but on his personal opinion. 

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