Speaking Out Against City Council Invocations

Last week, I mentioned how Bill Knight, the mayor of Greensboro, North Carolina, decided to have prayers before city council meetings.

Joshua Deaton and other members of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro Atheists/Agnostics/Skeptics attended a city council meeting to voice their opposition to the invocations.

I was finally able to get a transcript of Joshua’s speech — it’s a great example for anyone else who may be in a similar position — and I wanted to share it:

Our Mayor has decided that our City Council meetings shall now begin with prayer. According to the News & Record, Mayor Knight has stated that prayer is a “distinctly American quality and a very necessary element.” According to the same article, the Mayor is aware of the need to be inclusive, to not leave anyone out, so he will invite individuals from different faiths to participate in the invocation.

I find two serious problems with the mayor’s position:

1. The mayor may be working to include persons of all faiths (which is laudable), but non-sectarian prayer still excludes the non-religious (such as myself). The City Council’s previous practice of a moment of silence allowed for persons of all faiths to pray, while refusing to use our city government as a tool to advocate the value of prayer. Was a moment of silence really inhibiting anyone from a private moment of prayer? Of course not. The mayor’s decision is nothing more than a government endorsement of prayer, and an insult to the non-religious residents of this great city.

2. The mayor justified his decision by claiming that prayer is a distinctly American quality, which implies that there is something un-American (or less patriotic) about those of us who do not pray. What if the mayor had justified any other revision of our City Council meetings by insinuating that Catholics or Jews or Muslims were somehow not quite as American as his fellow Methodists? Of course this would not be acceptable. And the mayor’s statement is no more acceptable simply because those who are excluded and whose citizenship is devalued are atheists. Respect for religious liberties is an American quality, and Mayor Knight is certainly entitled to believe whatever he wants about atheists like me. But it is completely unacceptable that he should use the people of Greensboro’s City Council as a platform to advocate his private belief in the necessity of prayer.

Thank you for your time.

(Thanks to Phillip for putting this together!)

  • Mimi

    This is something that has happened in my town (Lodi, CA) the city council had decided years ago on a moment of silence, but they did not adhere to that rule, they had prayer because “it is the tradition” When a local Atheist decided to challenge it, it came up for a new vote. Instead of maintaining and respecting the previous “Moment of Silence” the council decided to OK a prayer before meetings… People of all faiths, creeds welcome. ect… ect… which in essence is BS. Just another example of how religion has crossed the line into government. It infuriates me, saddens me and embarrasses me. Why is this even an issue in this day and age?

  • mkb

    Well said.

  • http://laughinginpurgatory.blogspot.com/ Andrew Hall

    I want to go and do a prayer for my Lord Lucifer of the Bottomless Pit.

  • http://www.magnumdb.com/ Dan

    Gah, it was so good until the end!

    To mess up on the very last line, the subject of the entire speech… hard to listen to! “…continuation of a moment of PRAYER.” Boy oh boy oh boy.

    Also, he had to roll up his sleeves showing off a big tattoo? As fine as I am with tattoos, I wonder if that kind of visual will negatively effect the people he was speaking to.

  • Angie

    I kind-of wanted to hear what the end guy was going to say, quoting the Marine chaplain.

    Good speech though. I thought the nervous slip-up was cute. :)

  • Leigh

    In addition to the points made, I would also point out that many people do not believe in public prayer. So the Mayor is not only excluding the non-religious, but also disrespecting a significant segment of Americans whose religion tells them it is ostentatious to pray in pubic.

    Further, not all religions have have a tradition of prayer. How can the Mayor’s proposal include these individuals?

    Moments of silence seem to be the most inclusive compromise, but preferable would be for the Chair to call everyone to order and then start directly with whatever business needs doing. After all, people are free to engage in whatever preparation they think necessary before entering the room – including saying a prayer, doing deep breathing exercises, or rehearsing a speech.

  • Baconsbud

    ” Moments of silence seem to be the most inclusive compromise, but preferable would be for the Chair to call everyone to order and then start directly with whatever business needs doing. After all, people are free to engage in whatever preparation they think necessary before entering the room – including saying a prayer, doing deep breathing exercises, or rehearsing a speech.”

    Why can’t people understand this simple but excellent statement.

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