‘Henrico Supervisors’ Decision on Prayer was Courageous,’ Says Local Columnist

Michael Paul Williams has a wonderful column in the Richmond Times-Dispatch regarding how the Henrico County (Virginia) Board of Supervisors voted to stop invocation prayers at their meetings:

In an increasingly diverse U.S., the stubborn idea persists that we are a Christian nation. This notion muddles public policy and leads people to cite biblical passages when they should be referencing the Constitution. It also produces an anger and intolerance at odds with spirituality.

Henrico did not earn a long-standing reputation as one of the best-run counties in America by embracing legally untenable positions.

“I don’t think we’re not going to be able to do the business of the county because we don’t have someone out front praying for us,” said Nelson, who is perfectly capable of praying on his own behalf. Still, the board’s decision on prayer is courageous — the ultimate act of respect for all residents and faiths.

Prayer at public meetings is fraught with risk and contrary to a pluralistic society. Henrico has come to realize this and acted accordingly. Every other Virginia locale should do the same.

Perfectly put. Removing prayer from local government meetings is not a pro-atheist stance. It’s a neutral stance, and everyone should support it.

(Thanks to Nicole for the link!)

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.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_722JM2BE6YISLQ3KWROXGHBBXQ Joe Mama

    Agnostic atheism is the neutral stance. 

    • Coyotenose

      Philosophically it is. This is Constitutional neutrality. Whether or not a god exists is irrelevant to such.

      • 3lemenope


        Agnostic atheism is the neutral stance. [...] Philosophically it is.

        William James disagrees.

        • Coyotenose

           Haven’t read any James.

          • 3lemenope

            He’s worth the time. 

            In this case, his objection would have been against agnosticism functioning as a neutral position; his point was that regardless of knowledge or lack thereof, often humans are nonetheless forced to choose from among options as to what to believe is true. He argued that belief in God was such a question, since regardless of what you state your beliefs as, you must either live your life as though you believe in a God or live it as though you don’t. The metaphor he used was that one’s position “cashes out” as one or the other, regardless of one’s stated epistemological humility (or lack thereof).

            • Spamaccount0071

              Wouldn’t that whole objection be covered by the “atheism” part of  “agnostic atheism”?  That’s how I typically define the term.  Your reference to James certainly makes an argument against pure agnosticism; however, by appending atheism to the term, I am acknowledging my stance on the question.

              • 3lemenope

                The problem is not whether an individual has made the choice, but rather with the notion that either position could rightly  be called the philosophical “neutral” stance. A person who calls themselves an agnostic atheist is certainly indicating where they fall on the choice. The only objection is against agnostic atheism being regarded as anything other than the result of such a choice.

                James’ position, you could say, is that given forced, live, momentous choices that cannot be distinguished by evidence, there are no neutral positions to be had. All positions (even attempts to refrain from a position) are active choices in such circumstances. 

                • Coyotenose

                  I think I see your point. I should probably apply my personal prejudices about words a little less often.

                  Btw, your Raiders of the Lost Ark comment in the other post gave me a nice laugh.

                • 3lemenope

                  Thanks. I aim to entertain. :)

    • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

      No it isn’t. Atheism is neutral. Agnosticism is not, since it posits that something is beyond knowledge- a marginally irrational, borderline religious viewpoint.

  • http://twitter.com/nicoleintrovert Nicole Introvert

    Thanks for posting!  It was jaw dropping to see this opinion on the front of the Metro page, but Michael Paul Williams is my favorite columnist in our paper.   It’s not out of character for him to express the importance of equality for all. 

    I did my duty by writing him an email of thanks.   I just wonder how we can wake up other folks to understand that by eliminating government sponsored prayer we are protecting their right to pray.

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    While I appreciate the sentiment of the article, the very idea that somebody’s decision to merely operate legally, to obey the law, could be construed as “heroic” truly illustrates the awful state of things these days.


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