Prayer is coming back to Miami-Dade County Commission meetings starting Dec. 18.
In a 8-3 vote on Tuesday, commissioners signed off on a change to a current rule that only allowed for a moment of silence before meetings.
Now, commissioners will be able to invite a religious leader of their choosing or a fellow commissioner to lead everyone in a prayer before each meeting.
Voting for the ordinance were Commissioners Jose “Pepe” Diaz, Jean Monestime, Rebeca Sosa, Xavier Suarez, Juan Zapata, Bruno Barreiro, Esteban “Steve” Bovo and Audrey Edmonson. Commissioners Sally Heyman, Barbara Jordan, and Dennis Moss voted against. Lynda Bell and Javier Souto were absent.
Diaz sponsored the item after 18 months of intense lobbying from the Christian Family Coalition and its leader, Anthony Verdugo. Verdugo called Tuesday’s vote the end of “eight years of discrimination.”
In 2004, the commission adopted a moment of silence in order to be more inclusive. Civil rights activists say that a moment of silence has always benefited people of less-common religions or non-religious people, who are more likely to feel uncomfortable during prayers before government meetings.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida was among the civil rights groups that spoke out against prayer during commission meetings.
Baylor Johnson, a spokesperson for the ACLU of Florida, says that now the commissioners have opened themselves up to costly lawsuits.
"What we don't understand is why move away from the moment of silence?" Johnson says. "What was the impetus for that? That seemed to be a really respectful and all-inclusive way of allowing people to either silently have a prayer or not at their own choosing. Now what they have done is they've gone to a place where we've got government entangling itself with religion."
Johnson says this vote also flies in the face of a recent decision by voters to reject a ballot measure the ACLU of Florida warned would also lead to government entanglement in religion.