By KIMEKO MCCOY
While there may be mixed emotions about Pope Francis being invited to St. Augustine for the 450th, one organization called the invitation “fiscally reckless.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), on behalf of its Florida chapter, sent a letter to Mayor Joe Boles on Monday asking that he withdraw his invitation to Pope Francis to visit St. Augustine when he comes to the U.S. in 2015.
In a letter, the Pope’s U.S. representative has confirmed receiving the invitation but did not say whether the Pope would come to St. Augustine.
Boles said he will not rescind the invitation.
“I respectfully decline to rescind an invitation because I think that is poor manners, and I have only the greatest respect for all of our world leaders,” Boles said, “especially if they have a connection with St. Augustine and so I’m just going to have to say, ‘No.’”
According to the FFRF web site, co-presidents, Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Baker sent a letter of complaint on Sept. 22 to Boles for extending the invitation. The two said the invitation was “a shocking breach of (Boles’) civil and secular duties as mayor and to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which (Boles) took an oath to uphold.”
The letter continued, saying the invitation was “fiscally reckless, given the exorbitant costs of hosting a pope, costs which invariably end up being borne by taxpayers for crowd control, police protection, etc.”
Going further, the letter also touched on the doctrines of the church that were noted as harmful and out of date.
When preparations for the 450th started back in 2006, Boles said he sent out letters inviting various leaders to come to St. Augustine in 2015 for the celebration.
“We want anybody and everybody that has a significant historical connection to St. Augustine to recognize our place in history and be a part of our celebration at some point throughout 2015,” he said.
Pope Francis, the King of Spain, who has accepted, as well as others were invited.
Boles said that St. Augustine was the site of the first Roman Catholic Mass, which was some of the reasoning behind the invitation.
“We have a several-hundred-foot cross marking that spot, so the significance to the New World is without question,” he said.
FFRF may see the invitation as the mayor overstepping boundaries, but according to City Attorney Isabelle Lopez, no legal lines were crossed.
“As far as the law, I don’t see that anything in our invitation violates the current laws of this country as they have been interpreted,” Lopez said.
According to the U.S. Supreme Court’s three-part test called the Lemon Test, in order for the invitation to be a violation, it would need to be three things.
First, the policy or action of the government must be adopted for neutral or non-religious type purpose.
In this case, Lopez says, the purpose is to celebrate the history and the founding of the city.
Second, the action can’t advance or be of detriment to any particular religion.
“There’s clearly no attempt to advance the Catholic faith over any other faith,” Lopez said. “It’s simply part of the history and cultural heritage of the founding of our city.”
Finally, the test states that there can’t be an excessive government entanglement with religion.
“We’re doing one celebration regarding the founding of our city and invitations and programing will celebrate aspects of that,” Lopez said.
From a legal perspective, Lopez said, there is no basis in terms of a violation of the Establishment Clause, or separation of church and state, based on the current laws in this country.
Boles said: “If the Freedom From Religion Foundation wishes to file suit to try to compel me to rescind the invitation, I am an attorney and they may serve me at my law office at 19 Riberia St. any time they wish.”