Lifepointe Pastor Travis Johnson got to meet with Frank Faragalli of the Miami-Dade Parks and Recreation Department about their unceremonious ejection of Lifepointe’s beach baptism last Sunday. This is part of Travis’ account of that meeting. (You can click here for the rest.)
It was a pleasant meeting that did not achieve our desired result. Here’s what did happen:
- Frank could not cite which policy we violated. No one has been able to do that.
- I offered to show Frank the footage and he declined because he already knew about what was on there and didn’t need to rehash a bad situation. He said we shouldn’t have been treated that way.
- I told him I wasn’t looking for apologies or reprimands. I just wanted to fix a situation that involved our civil liberties, present and future.
- He invited us to do the baptisms at the bordering park, “Biscayne National Park.” It is a Federal Park and they do not have a policy against baptisms. On a side note, they also do not have a beach, only a canoe ramp, a jetty, and a boardwalk. I’m not sure where we would do that…though I’d be glad to go there. As it remains, Bayfront is the only public space available within a 35 minutes drive.
- We were told we could baptize before 8 AM lessening the chance it would be offensive to anyone in the park.
- The only difference in what we do and what others do is that about 60 feet off shore, a pastor prays, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” I asked if they were prohibiting all prayer, monitoring t-shirts content, and disallowing prayer before people eat their food. I got a smile and a non-answer.
- Since no one could cite a policy we violated, I asked what would happen if we baptized out there again. He said he wasn’t going to say if we were right or wrong and could not comment on what would happen. I responded by saying that they already did say we were wrong when they kicked us out of the water using sirens, mega phones, and abusive language toward our people in front of at least 200 bystanders.
- The resolution was that Frank suggested we contact the County Attorney’s office for a ruling from them.
- I told him I didn’t want to be an activist kicking up a bunch of sand over what should be a non-issue. We didn’t look for this civil liberties issue. But, it has found us. As a citizen, a person who loves my community, a follower of Christ, and as someone who wants to further contribute to the growth and health of my community, I have to respond. I really have no choice.
My thoughts on this are as follows:
- I think that Travis has acted in a restrained and responsible manner. I know I probably would not have been quite this restrained. My patience with South Florida’s "God-hating liberals" is very thin, as readers of this blog well know.
- I would think long and hard before going the litigation route. Litigation is long, expensive, and unpredictable on any matter, especially on one like this.
- I would release the video before initiating litigation. Public opinion–such as it is in a place like that–can be much more effective than litigation. It would create more potential embarrassment for the county, but if they caved they would save the taxpayer’s money.
- Faragalli’s suggestion to use a Federal park is amusing, to say the least. The only way this could be justified is if the State of Florida’s idea of religious freedom as relating to public property is narrower than the Federal one. But I can’t see how this could be.
- Travis states that "The guys and gals at Life Pointe have my back. You better believe I have their’s." In a situation where the church is persecuted, that’s a big role of the pastor–to protect the flock. That’s something that we in the U.S. have forgotten, but it’s been that way since the Roman Empire church.
- I smiled when I read Travis’ expression "an activist kicking up a bunch of sand." A true South Floridian.
You guys at Lifepointe are in my prayers.