One nation under a lawsuit: Pulpit, politics collide again in Jacksonville
Pastor RL Gundy offers an invocation in Mar. 2019. His microphone was cut.

Gundy RL
Around the time Gundy got to discussing “domestic terrorism,” his microphone was cut.

A suit filed in federal court Tuesday pits a Jacksonville preacher against his city, an extension of larger tensions about the role of faith in local politics.

“Gundy v. City of Jacksonville” stems from a Council meeting during the heat of the 2019 mayoral campaign, during which Rev. R.L. Gundy delivered a politicized, polemical prayer in support of his favored candidate.

Gundy supported Councilwoman Anna Brosche. Council President Aaron Bowman, a former commander of Mayport who has little tolerance for subversion, backed Mayor Lenny Curry.

Days before the election in March, Gundy (a supporter of one of Curry’s opponents) issued a prayer that ultimately was shut down by the Council leader.

Gundy moved on to address the “political climate dividing the community,” one characterized by “pride and selfish[ness]” and a critical mass of players “intimidated by the executive branch.”

Around the time Gundy got to discussing “domestic terrorism,” his microphone was cut.

On Twitter in May, Bowman defended the censored prayer.

“I would suggest you watch the invocation given right before primary election, invited by the introducer, and why unfortunately I needed to introduce this legislation. You won’t hear all of it because I had the microphone shut off,” Bowman wrote in May, regarding an ultimately-failed bill that would have changed the Council invocation process.

Gundy, in comments to the Florida Times-Union, said he “was compelled to take this measure filing a lawsuit due to the severity of the acts against [his] constitutional rights.”

He will be represented by Neil Henrichsen, according to the T-U. Henrichsen is a former chairman of the Duval County Democratic Party, and he also ran for state House downstate in 2018.

Jacksonville has often seen conflation of church and state, including during the just completed primary season.

In response to a spike in the murder rate (and perhaps, perhaps an impending election as well), incumbent Democrat called for a day of healing in the Council chambers.

Said “day of healing” looked more like a revival meeting.

The hour-long event was full of prayers and hymns, with roughly 150 in the crowd singing, praying, and raising their hands rapturously as appropriate.

Councilman Reggie Gaffney, the Democrat who convened the event, was not worried about the potential conflation of church and state.

A document produced as the so-called “city prayer,” read in unison, posited that Jacksonville is “gripped by sin,” with “lives polluted by sexual sin.”

A speaker noted that the event was targeting “every sinner and backslider in the city,” adding that “Jacksonville is on the rise in Jesus’ name.”

Jacksonville on the Rise is the name of Mayor Lenny Curry‘s political committee. Curry and Gaffney generally align on issues; the Councilman’s brother works in the Mayor’s Office and was at the event.

Gaffney won his March election going away.

Did this event help? Did Gaffney benefit from using city resources for a religious event timed to boost his re-election chances?

Gundy’s position is that preachers prior to and after him have had license to say whatever they have wanted under the banner of prayer.

The federal courthouse, just footsteps from City Hall, will ultimately decide if he – or the city of Jacksonville and Councilman Bowman – are correct.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at [email protected]


4 comments

  • Seber Newsome III

    July 8, 2019 at 8:40 am

    I dont think you should mix politics and religion when speaking in front of the city council during prayer. It is obvious the pastor was using his time trying to influence how people were going to vote. He should have spoken during public comments if he wanted to speak about politics in my opinion. And I think the courts will feel the same.

  • Frankie M.

    July 8, 2019 at 1:02 pm

    Jax mixes church & state more than any other city in the country. It’s what we do. Just look at FBC & their standing ovation for council members who voted against the HRO. Don Redmon wanted to vet a Muslim prayer in advance. I guess he thought the speaker was going to invoke jihad against the infidels in the name of Allah.

    Just another day in Jax. It’s too bad Bowman couldn’t jump in his time machine to make his legislation retroactive. Just because it’s unconstitutional doesn’t mean it won’t pass. After all this is the same city that can’t even figure out what the word ‘shall’ means.

    Bowman would have been better served biting his tongue before infringing upon someone’s right to free speech. He’s a loyal puppet to MC Curry but he’s not in the navy anymore where he can do whatever he wants. You can take the guy out of the military but you can’t take the military out of the guy.

  • susan

    July 8, 2019 at 3:00 pm

    Interesting that you tied these two events together.
    Excerpt from article:
    Did Gaffney benefit from using city resources for a religious event timed to boost his re-election chances?

    Gundy’s position is that preachers prior to and after him have had license to say whatever they have wanted under the banner of prayer.

  • Susan

    July 8, 2019 at 3:11 pm

    I think Bowman thought he had the right to turn off anyone’s mic that he wants. I’ve seen him refuse to give the floor to city council members who want to ask questions of people speaking during the comment period.

    I liked part of Aaron Bowman’s proposed 2019-329 especially the two minute limit. My guess is the two minute limit would make it easier for future City Council Presidents to abide by the the Greece v. Galloway decision which says city councils can’t discriminate against those with whom they disagree when selecting invocation speakers. I wish 2019-329 had been amended ever so slightly to change rule 1.106 to read as follows:

    RULE 1.106 CHAPLAIN
    Section 1. The President may appoint one Council Member to be Chaplain of the Council, but it isn’t required. Applications from those willing to offer a prayer/invocation before a council meeting shall (interpret as must) be accepted in a nondiscriminatory way. If any invitations are extended, then all invitations must be extended in a nondiscriminatory way. Any invitations extended by a Council Member shall specify that the opportunity to offer the invocation must not be exploited to convert others to a particular faith, to advance any particular faith, or to disparage any faith or belief. The length of the invocation shall not exceed two minutes. It shall be incumbent on the Chaplain to advise the guest speaker of these guidelines in advance of the scheduled invocation. If the President doesn’t appoint a Chaplain, then invocations shall not be given out loud at the microphone at city council meetings. Of course, this isn’t meant to restrict audience members’ speech during the 3 minute comment period.
    Section 2.The City Council requests that the Council President on July 1st issue (and publish) his/her Council President’s Executive Policy on Council Invocations explaining the method that applications will be accepted and invitations extended. In order to prevent the appearance of a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment, no city council member will give the invocation out loud at the microphone at a city council meeting. Invocation speakers must represent the wide diversity of our community, i.e. the invocation speakers can’t be solely representative of the religious views of the council members.

Comments are closed.


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