This is part 2 in a 3 part trilogy. Part 1 is located here. Part 2 begins with the afternoon public comment speakers.
Ms. Linda LaPratt was the first person to speak and would be the first in a long line of people to defend the prayer. She began by noting that a large number of government bodies open with prayer. She continued by citing the Virginia Religious Liberties Statute and claimed that the Board does not endorse any given religion. However, she voiced a concern that the Board listens more often to outsiders than to insiders and that the "majority of insiders want prayer to remain."
The second speaker called to the front was Noah Tickle, the gentleman sitting in front of me with his wife, who wore the bow-tie (Noah is introduced in part 1.) He explained that he had just gotten out of the dentist and that this should explain any problems with clarity.
He stated that "none of the Board members [are] opposed" and that they have a "sworn duty to be in order". Furthermore, the only way to be in order is to be right with God. "God is always first," he said, "then comes country." Violation of this principle puts the Board out of order.
Mr. Tickle went on to state that he had never heard of any one opening without an invocation. The foundation of a constitutional republic is God. "We are losing our constitution," he lamented. "And our Christian republic."
"Stand for liberty," he finished.
Next to speak was Baptist Pastor Greg Erby. Mr. Erby had been the officiant who gave the invocation earlier in the evening.
Erby cited the recent tragic shooting in Colorado, stating that this is what happens when you remove prayer from the public scene. He went on to cite a long series of shootings that had occurred after the removal of public school prayer in the 1960s. "Can we not admit," he argued, "that since removing prayer from public schools that things have gotten far more dangerous?"
My stomach turned at Erby's easy use of a long list of tragedies.
A man named Charles Pick (?) spoke next. Pick's message began with a diatribe on how American history began with the Pilgrims, who were focused on God. Prayer is "good for the majority". The Founders, he indicated, "recognised Him as our true leader." Citing American Atheist founder Madalyn Murray O'Hair, he said that she should have been told that our country was "founded on Christian beliefs."
Pick continued by citing the decay of values after the removal of prayer from schools.
"I'm on your side in this issue," he told the Board, presuming that all of its members agreed with him.
By the end of Pick's statements, his voice began to tremble. This was noticeably an emotional issue for him.
Mike Bailey arose and spoke next. He emphasised his belief that the Founders wanted God to have influence on governance. Bailey also seemed to correctly understand that the issue was with Jesus appearing in the prayer and stated that this was an Establishment Clause violation. He then commented that so many had died for our religious freedoms. However, to my bewilderment, he seemed to change course from where I thought he was headed. Bailey went on to say that he didn't like moments of silence. He argued that removing God from public life produces moral decay, which was followed by cries of "amen" from the audience. This would definitely not be the last time in the evening when there were bellows of "amen" from the audience.
Linda Oliver was the next to speak. She stated that if we lived in China, we might "need to worship Tay-oh-ism" (she meant "taoism", but didn't pronounce it correctly) or else we'd be kicked out. Oliver went on to talk about how if we were in India, we would need to worship Hinduism or else we'd be kicked out. Similarly, in the middle East, we'd be kicked out for not worshipping Allah. "This country", she went on to say, "was founded in the God of the Bible." Instead of speaking in favor of tolerance for non-theists, or relating how great it is that we are free in this country, she seemed to indicate that non-believers were not welcome. That since this is a Christian nation, they should keep the prayer.
Isabel Casey began by saying that she had very strong opinions on this issue. The ACLU is trying to remove God, she lamented. She added that she hadn't heard of the FFRF before, but looked them up. "They're a bunch of freethinkers and atheists," she said. "But atheism is a religion!"
She said that she thinks the constitution is being trampled on and that life was safe before prayer was removed from schools. "When we remove the Lord from guiding our country," she bemoaned, tragedy results. She proceeded through a strange gesticulation on Islam. "Wisdom comes from the Lord of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, not Allah!... Christians are being persecuted and Muslims are given a pass."
She finished by saying that Webster's Dictionary originally came from the Bible. A rotund, middle aged woman two seats in front of me turned to speak to Noah Tickle and excitedly stated, "Everything comes from the Bible!"
A woman whose last name was possibly Kulsa spoke next. She is an occupational therapist with a heavy European accent, possibly either English or Australian. She said that when she and her husband were looking for a place to live in the United States, she heard of an "amazing place called 'the Bible Belt'." She felt that this was the best place in the US because the people there "recognise God... [They] recognise Him first."
"We are blessed," she stated, and this was following by an encore of amens.
Max Byne began his comments by snarling at the Board that they would "like to do the right thing -- why don't you do that?"
Byne cited the now familiar moral argument and stated that the only external basis for morality was to be found in "faith based standards". He went on to say that the national response to disaster or tragedy is prayer. This is "all about responsibility," he lamented, "to our citizens and to our God."
Bruce Hartwick, a student from Virginia Western Community College, spoke next. He wore a black coat, with black pants, white button down, and a striped tie. He looked like he might be a nominee for the Republican vote in 20 years. During the evening session, he would wear a red Liberty University t-shirt.
Hartwick related that he had done some research on the FFRF. "Why make only 15% of people happy?" he said, referring to the statistics on religious non-affiliation in the United States.
Michael Palmer began his statements by saying that he pastored two churches. He stated that he was humbly asking the Board to fight the FFRF. "Respect those who don't believe," he pleaded. Incredibly, he went on to say that the best way to defend non-believers was by praying.
"Roanoke county residents will stand with you," he told the board, like never before. "To take prayer out makes it worse not only for those who believe but also for those who don't believe."
Next to speak was Scott Mange, president of SHOR. Scott looks something like Brian Dalton of Mr. Deity fame, with a white beard and hair. He has a reserved, soft-spoken, and non-threatening demeanor, though, having interacted with him, he can have a certain edge to him that did not come out during his comments. His comments were brief and simply encouraged the Board to end their illegal sectarian prayer practice.
After Scott, Susan Edwards of the 9th District Republican Committee of Virginia spoke. She began by talking about the Derecho issues, but then proceeded onto talking about the prayer. She said that she has been working with a number of organisations to develop a model policy or solution that she thought would satisfy both SHOR and the FFRF.
She stated that she had been in contact with a number of organisations, whose opinions had been returned to her on this issue. Those organisations include:
*Alliance Defending Freedom (whose motto is "For Faith. For Justice.")
*The Rutherford Institute (which the Charlottesville Daily Progress termed a "more conservative ACLU")
*The American Center for Law and Justice (a Conservative Christian, pro-life group founded by Pat Robertson)
She finished by telling the board that she "will be praying for y'all."
Brad Archer began by stating that he was with the Foundation for America. The Foundation for America is an organisation dedicated to teaching "the founding principles of America to all Americans in order to re-gain the civil society that was America." In other words, to spread the Conservative narrative about the history of religion in the United States and its role in the founding of our country.
He stated that our country is "under-siege" and that the FFRF wants to "trample the rights of many for the few". He felt that this was really about "judiciary extortion". It is "time once and for all to stamp out this form of intolerance", his words echoed.
Brad Archer was the last speaker for the afternoon session. We adjourned and I went to dinner with members of SHOR.
Next post: The evening session!