David Suhor ECUA Legal Defense Fund
On 2.22.18, I was arrested at the Emerald Coast Utility Authority (ECUA, Pensacola Florida, our local elected water/sewage board) before their monthly meeting. I was charged with trespassing (because I would not be silent and quietly spoke a prayer before the meeting started) and resisting arrest without violence (for going limp, passively resisting).
Why? Before the meeting, I kindly, calmly spoke the Lord's Prayer to the (all-xtian) board members for several minutes - all before the Call to Order. I ended with the board chair, Lois Benson, at about the time she wanted to start their "unofficial" prayer. Again, before the actual meeting.
BACKGROUND: Chair Benson and ECUA (a non-legislative body, not allowed to pray under Galloway) only allows board members (illegal, exclusive, establishment clause violation). Secularists made offers from March 2015 and since. At the time, on attorney advice, Benson moved the invocations to before the Call to Order. Why? So they can argue these prayers are unofficial... and not subject to legal scrutiny or inclusion? This also keeps them off the public record (she ordered video not to be recorded since).
After being thrown out and silenced at previous meetings, on this day I chose not to be silent until the meeting's Call to Order. I prayed calmly as Ms Benson started her pre-amble to the invocation. She objected, then, asked a deputy to remove me. To be clear, she had me arrested for quietly praying to her BEFORE the meeting began. She refused to call the meeting to order (as I suggested), which I would have honored in silence. In short, ECUA contends that, though not official, they can pray (on mic), but I had to be silent. NO!
Eventually, I was told to be silent or leave. I refused unless meeting was called to order. I was arrested and banned from future meetings. In the end, I did not comply with this unjust arrest, so I was cited for resisting too. Eight interesting hours later, I was home on bail. Also note: I did not get to speak out in the public forum... for the second time. I have POV video of most of this incident.
UPDATE: 8.6.2018. The judge found me guilty on both counts. She said I purposely interrupted the "process" of starting their prayer. She ignored the fact that I was not asked to leave, as Chair Benson claimed on the stand. She ignored that the Call to Order is the actual start of the meeting. I got more than minimum sentence, costing me $700+, 3 months probation, 25 hours community service, a criminal record. She (judge) also gave ECUA license to silence the audience before the meeting begins, under threat of arrest. And their establishment clause and prayer violations will continue unabated.
This campaign is for the cost of appeal or my fines if I can not find an attorney to appeal. If anything is left, I will use it as seed to sue ECUA for civil rights including religious censorship, unlawful arrest and curbing free speech. I do not benefit from this AT ALL. In fact, my efforts negatively impact my local life. I need these funds FIRST to get legal help to appeal these charges. Beyond the 'unofficial-but-still-a-meeting' issue, ECUA's attorneys have refused requests for copies of the nearly-three years invocations since 2015, and video thereof.
I did not take these actions for myself, but simply to convince ECUA to either 1) embrace their illegal invocations and allow them to see the light of day, or 2) to stop ignoring the various legal failings of their invocation process. Unfortunately, this is part for the course in the deep south. Three other local boards also discriminate and break the law in their invocations. Just look at the reaction from my July 2016 Satanic Temple invocation at the City Council.