Greensboro City Council Goes from Public Prayer to Moment of Silence Thanks to Atheist Activists

In 2010, I wrote a couple of posts about Mayor Bill Knight of Greensboro, North Carolina and how he supported open prayer before city council meetings.

Members of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro Atheists/Agnostics/Skeptics group spoke out against the public prayers at the city council meetings but Knight didn’t care. His public display of faith was more important to him than making sure the entire community felt included in the meetings.

But that was 2010.

There’s been a change since the November election and someone else is in charge of those meetings now:

Robbie Perkins wins election (Joseph Rodriguez - News & Record)

Daniel Foster explains:

While Knight ignored our appeals for inclusiveness, our perseverance did not go unnoticed. One council member, Robbie Perkins, supported reinstating the moment of silence from the onset and promised our group he would deliver if elected mayor.

While the UNCG AAS doesn’t explicitly endorse candidates, many of our members gathered at the ballot (some for the first time) and cast their vote. The election was a landslide and Mayor Perkins opened his first meeting with a moment of silence!

Yes, it would be better if the new mayor did away with the moment of silence altogether and, you know, got down to actual work. But given the city council’s past, this is a welcome gesture from Mayor Perkins and evidence that a small group of activists can make a difference in local government.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Anonymous

    This is progress.  Tiny progress but still progress.  Thanks!

  • Anonymous

    I really hate the whole moment of silence thing.  A duck is still a duck even if it isn’t quacking at the moment.

    • http://twitter.com/captwasabi captwasabi

      I could not possibly disagree more. The moment of open prayer is really just that; open prayer. A moment of silence is pregnant with opportunity. Certainly one can pray or one can think about what they are going to have for dinner, what they are going to do for vacation or the smoking hot redhead with the 34DD sweater kittens standing next to them.

      The point is that prayer is rigidly defined as prayer whereas the moment of silence can be used individually to fill pretty much whatever need is required at the moment.

      • Anonymous

        So it’s a matter of replacing one worthless thing with another? 

        A moment of silence is implemented as a reminder that you should be praying just like we used to.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger/featured GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    Yes, that is DEFINITELY progress. Congrats.

    Meanwhile, my main concern with the moment of silence is that once a new mayor gets elected, which will eventually happen, that moment on the agenda just screams “Time to Pray to Jesus” if that next/eventual mayor is an avid christian.

    After the dust settles, it would be ideal if they removed the moment as well.

    Diplomatically, though, it is perhaps easier for ‘moderate’ theists to go from Prayer to Nothing by using “silence” as an intermediary.

  • Minus

    I actually like a moment of silence to start a meeting.  It is a good way to set the meeting apart from what went before, take a deep breath, and start fresh.  Nothing religious about it.

    • Anonymous

      Kind of like the chairperson saying “This meeting will please come to order” followed by a roll call to set the meeting apart from what went before?

  • TiltedHorizon

    Considering this is how slow government works I’d hope they would skip past all the unproductive crap in favor of getting actual work done.

  • Guest

    “They have a
    notion, that when people are met together, a short silence does much
    improve conversation: this I found to be true; for during those little
    intermissions of talk, new ideas would arise in their minds, which very
    much enlivened the discourse.”
    -Jonathan Swift, in Gulliver’s Travels, regarding the Houyhnhnm

    Swift was not an atheist (a potentially lethal attribute in his day), but I think he has a point here.  Just as a gymnast is still before beginning a performance, I think a speaker is wise to be quiet before speaking.  Let’s be hopeful that more wisdom can be found in silence than in forced prayer.

  • Ulrike Dunlap

    Hemant – is the mayor’s name Perkins, or Jenkins?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      Perkins. My mistake. Fixed!

  • Edmond

    It’s weird how moving from a recognition of religion and prayer, to doing absolutely NOTHING for several seconds, is considered “progress”.  Religion is so useless that it’s actually in the NEGATIVE spectrum of effectiveness, LESS than no activity at all.

    • Misssledge

      Its unfortunate that u don’t understand or you’ve never encountered the power of prayer.


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