Somervell County Commissioners Court Record of Unconstitutional Prayer - 2015-2017 (Judge Danny Chambers)


 
Violation of the Establishment Clause

Somervell County Commissioners Court Record of Unconstitutional Prayer - 2015-2017 (Judge Danny Chambers)
 


4 August 2016 at 9:07:58 AM
salon

Compilation of most Somervell County Commissioners Court meetings from January 2015 through July 2016 (Updated, through April 2017), emphasis on the prayer. Have clipped out the pledges (US and Texas) but you can listen to the unabridged versions of the following months on the audio section of the Somervell County Commissioners Court website.  Note also as you read below that Judge Danny Chambers at no time acknowledged or answered my emails to him, via email, but acknowledged that he had read them when I approached him on several occasions face to face to discuss. Also, after I pointed out in May 2016 that having the commissioners do an invocation from the dais was unconstitutional, he stopped the practice for the next 2 meetings by having 2 different pastors chosen by him or John Curtis do the prayers. However, in direct opposition to the Supreme Court ruling of Town of Greece vs Galloway, he denied me the opportunity or ability to do an invocation. Apparently, then, when he realized that opening up the prayer to anyone would invite views he might have a personal objection to, he may have decided to go back to doing unconstitutional prayers from the dais by the commissioners. If that isn't the case and he continues to bring in community prayer-givers who are pre-approved by he or someone on the commissioners court, without benefit of even a policy, he would show himself to discriminate against me, a Somervell County citizen. Danny Chambers swore to uphold the US constitution when he became judge-was that a joke to him? 

January 12, 2015. Chambers "Please join us for the pledges and the prayers" -John Curtis, Somervell County Commissioner, does the prayer after the pledges (see video above which includes audio snips) Chambers "John, you want to say the prayer". Curtis "Let's pray. Dear heavenly father, lord, just ask for your guidance, please guide and direct us as we conduct county business. In your name we pray. Amen" 

(The Feb 9 2015 meeting did not record properly, according to Michelle Reynolds, due to problems with the main recorder.)

I did an open records request to Somervell County Clerk Michelle Reynolds on March 4, 2016 asking 

I’m requesting, in digital format, a copy of the Invocation procedure/rules for Somervell County to be sent back via email. To be precise, I assume that people from the community are able to do invocations for Somervell County Commissioner Court meetings and would like a copy of how that is done.

Reynolds answered back, on March 4, 2016

I am unaware of any procedure/ policy that the county has implemented regarding invocation

March 9,  2015 Chambers: "John, will you lead us in the prayer" - John Curtis does prayer  (see video above which includes audio snips) Curtis. "Let's pray. Dear heavenly father, lord, thank you for this day, we ask and seek your guidance, lead, guide and direct us in administering county business. In Jesus Christ name I pray. Amen" 

May 11,  2015 Chambers: "Rise and have pledge to the flag... Larry?" Larry Hulsey, Somervell County Commissioner, does the prayer after the pledges.  (see video above which includes audio snips) Hulsey: dear heavenly father, thank you for this day you give us. thank you for the rain that you provided and we pray, father, that the ones that was in the storms that they'll look to you for peace. We pray that we make the right decisions on the court today. In Jesus name Amen" 

June 8,  2015 Chambers: "Stand for the pledge to the flag.. Let us pray" Larry Hulsey does prayer  (see video above which includes audio snips) Hulsey Dear heavenly father thank you for this day you give us. We thank you for blessing this country and thank you for blessing the county. father we pray that your will be done in this court today. In Jesus name amen

July 13,  2015 Chambers: "Please rise and we'll pledge allegiance to the flag.... Larry, would you say the prayer?". Hulsey, "Yeah, sure". Larry Hulsey does prayer  (see video above which includes audio snips) Larry: dear heavenly father, thank you for this day you've given this body, father thank you for blessing this country and thank you for blessing the county father. Father we pray that we'll do your will in this court today. In Jesus wonderful name amen.

August 10,  2015 Chambers: "We'll all rise for the pledges... Larry or John?" Larry Hulsey does the prayer  (see video above which includes audio snips) Hulsey Dear heavenly father thank you for this day you give us. father thank you for all the things that you've blessed us with. I pray that we'll do your will in the court. In Jesus wonderful name Amen

September 14, 2015 Chambers: "Will everyone please join us for the pledge.. Larry or John please say prayer " Larry Hulsey does the prayer  (see video above which includes audio snips) Larry: Dear heavenly father thank you for this day you've given us, father thank you for blessing this town ... and we know you're the one in control, father and we pray we'll do your will. In Jesus name. Amen

October 13,  2015 Chambers: "If you'll join us in the pledge to the flags? .... One of your gentleman lead us in the prayer, please". Larry Hulsey does the prayer  (see video above which includes audio snips) Larry dear heavenly father thank you for this dav you've given us. father I pray that we'll all think about the ones that lost property.. that they will look to you, that you are in charge, father and I pray that your will be done on this court, In jesus wonderful name amen

November 9,  2015 Chambers: "Join us to the pledges to the flags. .. Either one want to  lead us in the prayer". Larry Hulsey does the prayer  (see video above which includes audio snips) Larry father in heaven, we thank you for this day you've given us. thank you for the freedom that service people have given us, thank you for the veterans. father we know that only true freedom comes from you. All the power and glory in Jesus name amen.

Dec 14, 2015 Chambers: "If you will please join us in pledge of allegience to the flag... Gentlemen".... Larry Hulsey does the prayer  (see video above which includes audio snips) Larry dear heavenly father, we thank you for this day, father we pray that we look to you for the answers, we know you are the answer father, father we pray your will be done In Jesus name amen.

Jan 11, 2016 Chambers: "Would you please join us in the pledges and the prayer". Hulsey "Prayer?" Chambers: "Yes". Larry Hulsey does the prayer  (see video above which includes audio snips) Larry dear heavenly father thank you for this day you give us, thank you for the freedom we have in this country, father .. your will on the court today. In jesus name amen

Feb 8, 2016 Chambers: "If you will all join us in the pledgs and the prayer.... Larry or John, whichever". Larry Hulsey does the prayer  (see video above which includes audio snips) Larry dear heavenly father thank you for this day you give us, thank you for all the blessings you give us, thank you for the freedom we have here in this nation. All the glory and honor go to you father, may your will be done in jesus name amen.

March 14, 2016 Chambers: "Will y'all rise and join us with the pledges to the flag... Larry or John". Larry Hulsey does the prayer  (see video above which includes audio snips) Larry heavenly father thank  you for this day you give us, thank you for the love you show us. father we pray that you'll help us become closer to you. We pray that we'll make the right decisions in jesus name amen.

April 11, 2016 Chambers "If you'll all join us in the pledges...Larry or John, whichever". Larry Hulsey does the prayer  (see video above which includes audio snips) Larry dear heavenly father thank you for this day you've given us, thank you for the love you show us father and thank you for the cross in jesus name amen.

May 9  2016 Chambers: "Would y'all join us in the pledges, please... Larry or John." Larry Hulsey does the prayer  (see video above which includes audio snips) Larry dear heavenly father thank you for this day you've given us. Thank you for the freedom we have in this nation. father we pray we will do your will on this court. In jesus name amen

Video of May 9 2016 prayer section. 

 
I sent an email to Danny Chambers on 5/12/2016 requesting that the practice of having a commissioner do the prayer from the dais be stopped. 

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.

Although I received no email reply for this, by the next meeting, Chambers had stopped the practice and apparently invited Dennis Moore to do the prayer.

June 13 2016 Chambers: "Would y'all please join us for the pledge...Dennis, would you lead us in prayer this morning". Dennis Moore, local minister and also on city council, does the prayer. (see video above which includes audio snips)

VIDEO- Danny Chambers directed Dennis Moore to lead the audience in prayer at that June 13 2016 meeting 

 
I sent Danny Chambers an email on June 13, 2016, with no reply

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? 

I sent another email message to Danny Chambers on June 29 2016 with no reply

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?

July 11 2016 Chambers: "Moment of silence.. What's the name of the person that's going to do the prayer?". John Curtis" Lineberger, new pastor". Lineberger does the prayer

The moment of silence was not on the agenda. Apparently Danny Chambers had arranged with John Curtis to bring in a pastor to pray. 

VIDEO of July 11 2016 prayer

I spoke with Danny Chambers about this after the meeting. I wrote about this publicly on July 11, 2016 under "Why is Judge Danny Chambers Acting As Denying Judge for Giving Legislative Invocations".  a snippet from that

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.

On July 15, 2016, FFRF sent a letter to Somervell County Attorney Andrew Lucas about unconstitutional prayer actions.

Heard informally that, due to Judge Danny Chambers wishing to discriminate against me doing the invocation, he may have decided to go back to blatantly unconstitutional prayer actions. Next meeting is the upcoming Monday on August 8, 2016. 

UPDATED: 

August 2016

Chambers: Larry would you lead us in prayer please? Larry. Heavenly father, thank you for this day you give us. father we pray that you'll help us make these hard decisions ... and we pray your will be done  and that God's life (unintelligible) In jesus wonderful name amen

September 12, 2016

Chambers: Larry would you like to do the prayer? Larry, heavenly father thank you for this day, father we pray that you'll give us wisdom to make decisions in this court ... show love.. may your will be done in jesus name amen

October 2016

Danny: Larry? Larry dear heavenly father thanks for this day, thanks for blessing this county father, father you say that all good things come from above, thank you father in jesus name amen

November 14,  2016 "Larry would like to lead us in the prayer" AUDIO (pledges cut from audio)  Larry dear heavenly father thank you for this day you give us, father, thank you for being in control, father that we can look to you. Thank you for the cross and thank you for the relationship we can have with you. May you look over the citizens today, lord. In jesus name amen. 

December 2016 "Larry would you like to lead us in the prayer" AUDIO  (pledges cut)  Larry dear heavenly father thank you for this day. father i pray you'll give us wisdom lord on the decision making today lord and your will be done in jesus name amen. 

Jan 9,  2017 "Larry Would you like to lead us" AUDIO  Larry dear heavenly father thank you for this day, father thank you for this new year we're going to begin and I pray you'll keep blessing us father in jesus name amen

Feb 2017 "Larry would you like to do the prayer" AUDIO  Larry, dear heavenly father thank you for this day. father I pray that you will give us wisdom on decisions today lord, father we pray that john and his wife will have comfort and peace in the situation. in Jesus name amen. 

Mar 2017 "Larry?" VIDEO below Larry dear heavenly father thank you for this day, thanks for blessing this county father. father you say that all good things come from above we thank you father in jesus name amen

April 10,  2017 "Larry would you want to lead us in the prayer?". AUDIO (Pledges excluded) Larry dear heavenly father thank you for this day you give us father thank you for blessing us may we make the right decisions today. May your will be done in Jesus name amen. 

May 8 2017- Danny Chambers to Hulsey "Larry?" AUDIO (pledges included) Larry- dear heavenly father thank you for this day you give us, thank you for all the blessings father, father thank you for who you are, lord, that we can look to you for the answers and the comfort may your will be done in jesus name amen 

June 12 2017- Danny Chambers to Hulsey "Larry, would you like to lead us in prayer?"  AUDIO  (pledges included) Larry dear heavenly father thank you for this day you give us, father we pray that you'll give us wisdom on this board. may your will be done, in Jesus name amen.

July 10, 2017- Danny Chambers "Larry would you lead us in prayer?" AUDIO . Larry- Dear heavenly father thank you for this day you give us. father thank you for all the blessings you give us and father we thank you for the cross In Jesus name, amen

P.S. As a side note, there is a case from Rowan Co NC with much the same circumstances of elected officials doing prayers FROM the dais. UPDATE. Rowan Co NC LOST. 

Case over prayer at Rowan commissioners meetings heads to federal appeals court (NC)  Here is the ACLU brief

The original lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of three residents, said nearly all prayers that opened Rowan County Commission meetings between 2007 and 2013 were Christian. Prayers typically ended with phrases such as “in the name of Jesus” or “in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” their lawsuit said.

The plaintiffs, who are not Christians, said the prayers made them feel excluded and sent the message that the board favored a particular religion. They said they felt pressured to stand and participate because the commission and most of the audience would do so.

The board had no written policy on prayer, andbut county commissioners said in court documents that they were following a long-standing tradition and took turns delivering the prayer. They said citizens could leave the room or arrive after the prayer without affecting their ability to participate in the meetings.

The ACLU wrote the commission in February 2012 saying the prayers violated the Constitution. A federal court issued a preliminary injunction in 2013 halting the practice, and the judge made his decision permanent in May, nearly a year after the Supreme Court ruling.

Calling Rowan County’s practice “unconstitutionally coercive,” U.S. District Judge James Beaty Jr. noted “that Commissioners themselves are the sole prayer-writers and prayer-givers,” distinguishing the case from the one decided by the Supreme Court.

From the ACLU Brief

In Rowan County, the prayer-givers are Board members themselves; in Town of Greece, the prayer-givers were not government officials elected to represent all residents and were comprised of volunteers of a variety of faiths. Rowan County Commissioners focus their prayers on the broader public, and Commissioners routinely direct Rowan County citizens such as Ms. Lund, Mrs. Montag-Siegel, and Mr. Voelker, to participate in prayers these government officials compose and deliver. Officials in Town of Greece never did so, and the prayers there were, as a result, internally focused and for the benefit of the board, not town residents. And Rowan County Commissioners have turned their Board meetings into a hostile environment for prayer nonparticipants by deriding those who question their prayer practice and suggesting that non-Christian beliefs are inferior; nothing 6 of the sort took place in Greece. 

Rowan County’s Prayer Practice Pressed Religious Observances on Residents in a Fashion Not Found in Town of Greece or Longstanding Legislative Prayer Traditions. The District Court’s decision below simply reaffirms the “elemental First Amendment principle that government may not coerce its citizens ‘to support or participate in any religion or its exercise.” Town of Greece, 134 S. Ct. at 1825 (plurality opinion) (citation omitted). “[C]ontext is key in [assessing alleged] Establishment Clause violations involving coercive practices.” JA 360. The Supreme Court found no impermissible coercion in Town of Greece because the prayers were delivered by volunteers for the benefit of town board members, who, in turn, never directed the public to participate in the prayers or signaled disfavor toward nonparticipants. 

A. The Prayers Delivered by the Rowan County Commissioners Are an External Act Focused on the Broader Public. Central to the finding that the prayers in Town of Greece were constitutional was the fact that they were “an internal act” for the benefit of the town board. Id. at 1825 (quoting Chambers v. Marsh, 504 F. Supp. 585, 588 (D. Neb. 1980)); see also Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577, 630 n.8 (1992) (Souter, J., concurring) (describing Marsh as a case “in which government officials invoke[d] spiritual inspiration entirely for their own benefit”) (emphasis added); Hudson v. Pittsylvania County, No. 4:11cv043, 2015 WL 3447776 at *13 (W.D. Va. May 28, 2015) (denying defendant’s motion to dissolve injunction against legislative prayer practice postTown of Greece decision, explaining that, “[w]hile the majority and principal dissenting opinions in Town of Greece disagreed on the proper interpretation of the facts of that case, both Justices Kennedy and Kagan deemed the intended audience of the prayers to be significant . . . In each of their minds, there is a more significant 9 Establishment Clause concern where, as here, the prayers are delivered to the public by the governing body, as opposed to prayers directed to the governing body.” 

The District Court duly noted that this is not the case here. In place of “guest ministers” praying for the town board in Town of Greece, 134 S. Ct. at 1826 (plurality opinion), “the Commissioners themselves—and only the Commissioners—delivered the prayers at the Board’s meetings.” JA 339; see also Town of Greece, 134 S. Ct. at 1822 (criticizing practices that “would involve government in religious matters” by “editing or approving the prayers in advance”); Hudson, 2015 WL 3447776, at *12 (“In Pittsylvania County, the Supervisors led the prayers and asked the audience to stand while doing so, rendering the prayer practice far less of ‘an internal act’ directed at the Board than was the case in both Marsh and Town of Greece.”) (citation omitted). 


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