Another Student Speaks Out Against Greensboro City Council Invocations

Bill Knight, the mayor of Greensboro, North Carolina, recently decided to have prayers before city council meetings.

A couple weeks ago, Joshua Deaton (a member of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro Atheists/Agnostics/Skeptics) spoke out against this.

A couple nights ago, the founder and current president of that group, Phillip Drum, spoke out against it as well.

Here’s video of his speech — a transcript is below:

Hi, my name is Phillip Drum… I am the founder and current president of UNCG Atheists, Agnostics, and Skeptics.

I come to speak to you tonight because I believe that the Mayor has taken steps toward excluding a valuable group in our society. I have been an atheist for many years and I feel that by encouraging and mandating a prayer at meetings the Mayor is trampling on my rights as a citizen of the United States.

Before entering college I served six years in the United States Army in the Infantry branch and eventually reached the rank of Staff Sergeant and the position of a Platoon Sergeant. I have been to Iraq twice, and worked to defend this country at every opportunity. The ideas behind why we were in Iraq never entered my mind because I had a job to do as a soldier. I had an obligation to my subordinates and my fellow Soldiers, to keep them safe and to look out for their welfare. In the same way, you, Mayor Knight, have an obligation to the great citizens of this city. An obligation to ensure that no one is discriminated against. An obligation to conduct inclusive City Council meetings regardless of the citizens’ faith or lack thereof. You sir, have an obligation to citizens like myself who have done everything in their power to help defend this great country.

I would also like the Mayor and the City Council to know that I am respecting them because I have not organized all the members of my organization to come and speak. Tonight, I will be the only one speaking on behalf of my organization. In the future, I have encouraged only one person to speak at every council meeting. I do not want to monopolize the time of this forum and drown out the voices of the rest of the community..

I would like to conclude by reiterating: What is wrong with a moment of silence where all people with and without faith can collect their thoughts and pray if they choose? A moment of silence allows everyone to be respected and there was nothing wrong with this event where everyone in the city can take part in. I ask the Mayor to reconsider his policy and the City Council to urge the Mayor in public and in private to change this policy, because it is the right thing to do.

Thank you very much.

I love that he’s sending one member of the group to every city council meeting to make sure the message gets heard :)

There’s been no policy change yet, but people are talking about it… there’s hope. And if enough people keep pressuring the council, maybe they will come to their senses.

  • mouse

    Playing the mililtary service card; ur doin it rite. (says the Navy vet)

  • http://www.andrewmartens.com/ Andrew Martens

    Sometimes the only way to get a message across to council is by reiterating it at every opportunity. It can work.

    I applaud the fact that he is ensuring that they only hear this message once per meeting, however. When many individuals come up to say the same thing, it can be a huge waste of council’s time and prevents other messages from the community from being heard.

  • Ricky

    Soo I thought you spoke very well. Good job.

  • sc0tt

    That was almost exactly right.

    I think I would have added that the mayor ought to be honest with himself about why he thinks the public prayer is a good idea, and everyone on the council ought to ask themselves if they’d make decisions any differently without it.

    (ex sailor waves at mouse)

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/gettingfreeftw gettingfree

    The young atheists in these student groups are so awesome. They do such creative and well-thought out things to promote separation of church and state, work towards atheists having a proper place in society, etc. It always gives me such hope for the future when I see these kinds of things.

    And yet another “atheist in a foxhole”. :) Just when we’ve had a outbreak of reporters saying they don’t exist.

  • SpencerDub

    Bravo, Philip!

  • Carol B

    I was impressed by the number of rational folks who commented on the article posted by the Greensboro News and Record. Sure, there were some flaming nutjobs, screaming about atheists trampling on their right to pray, and ruining their liberties, and how atheists have no morals, blah blah blah, but there were also a lot of people, both Christian and atheist, who said prayers have no business being in city council meetings. And there was someone named Allen who was awesome! Allen, are you here with us? You should be! :-)

  • Alex

    Even a moment of silence is an issue. It should be a moment to do whatever you want. Why do we need to respect praying at a secular meeting? Particular if it’s initiated by an elected official.

  • Rajesh Shenoy

    When will Phillip enlist the legions of the faithful of the Church of FSM to help him in his cause?

    The Church of FSM is very inclusive. It allows members of other religions into its fold! There are members who’re former Hindus – they believe they need a sacrificial fire pit to pray (which the current watered-down Hindu religion does not mandate), and prayer is ONLY thorough loudly reciting ancient sanskrit phrases in chorus (not the way the currently practised in the Hindu temples, mumbling in your head, which is a very westernised – and therefore corrupted – way of praying). Then there are former Muslims – they only pray after a Muezzin’s prayer call, and need a mat to squat on the floor facing the direction of Mecca. And this should be done only at the prescribed times!

    You see, if Philip were to approach the Church of FSM, we would petition the mayor to arrange for all these provisions to allow us to pray in our true way, as prescribed by our God! Mere “lip-service” (pun intended) to hold prayers will not do!

  • Dan W

    I think Phillip and the members of his organization are going about this in the right way. It just sucks that so many religious folks in this country think they should push their religion into the government, where it doesn’t belong.

  • Andrew Hall

    A job well done! Clear, to the point, and respectful. If there was a tutorial on how to react to pandering politicians this would be in it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CybershamanX Cybershaman

    I think he should evoke the power of the almighty Boot. (http://friendlyatheist.com/2010/05/27/the-boot-protest/) :)

  • http://www.banalleakage.com martymankins

    The moment of silence respects any person’s belief or non-belief. Wishing more elected officials would consider diverse beliefs instead of pushing their own personal beliefs when it comes to making policy.

  • http://moviesworthdefending.wordpress.com Rob Caravaggio

    I too see a problem with even a moment of silence.

    Either the city council is a secular body, or it’s not.

    If those present wish to pray, or meditate, or count to 10 in their heads, they can do so on their own time. Why do the personal religious practices (or secular practices for that matter) of individual persons have to encroach upon the time of the city council–even if it’s just a “moment”? It’s just so bloody unnecessary.

    A moment of generalized silence is–I’m sorry–also silly (just not as silly, but still silly).

  • SpencerDub

    Honestly, the way I see it, the only substantial difference between a moment of silence and no moment at all is that a moment of silence can be agreed upon by more people.

    I’m certainly no lawyer, but constitutionally, I see no difference between the two options. If a moment of silence is just that, a time for reflection, collection of one’s thoughts, and meditation or prayer for those who desire such action, then it’s not endorsing a specific religious/non-religious perspective. It has a secular purpose– to allow people to collect their thoughts. Not having such a moment at all is also obviously religiously neutral.

    I would not consider a moment of silence a government endorsement of religion. I feel like pushing for no moment at all is no more constitutionally justified than calling for a moment of silence, but would be a more polarizing move, less likely to succeed. I would guess that moderate believers who might support a moment of silence would not support having no moment at all.

    But that’s just my two cents.

  • Armyrunner

    As a fellow atheist and retired US Army NCO I say Hoohah young SSG!

  • http://greensboroatheists.com/ Calvin Spealman

    One June 2, my wife gave a speech that we both wrote in protest, as well.

    http://www.greensboroatheists.com/2010/06/city-council-atheist-voices.html

  • Heidi

    Nice job. Thanks to Phillip (and also, thank you for your service) and thanks to Calvin’s wife, Heather for speaking up for our rights.

  • http://www.eurovisionamerica.com Michael (SQFreak)

    It amazes me that this is occurring in the next county over from (and in the same federal judicial district as) Forsyth, where the practice of organized prayer in meetings was dealt a major blow. Admittedly, that was an as-applied challenge, but still, I don't know why the City of Greensboro would want to get involved in the controversy.

  • Zachary Drum

    I think what was said was well thought out and very valid. I am not a resident of Greensboro, NC, nor am I a member of any organization. However, I am a verteran of Afghanistan and Phillip’s brother, and I believe that a moment of silence is better than prayer. Please keep your religious views to yourself, nobody needs to, nor should have to share your faith. Whatever it may be.