Rapid City, South Dakota Wants to Keep Religious Invocations at City Council Meetings

In Rapid City, South Dakota, the City Council always begins meetings with an invocation delivered by a “local minister“:

The Freedom From Religion Foundation recently sent them a letter (at the urging of a local resident) objecting to the promotion of religion. But the city doesn’t want to budge:

The request has not been well received by city leaders, including Mayor Sam Kooiker who is “strongly in favor of continuing the prayers.”

“I believe that this is a time-honored tradition that has strong community support,” he said, noting that the state Legislature and U.S. Congress open their sessions with a prayer.

Dale Bartscher, a Rapid City pastor and executive director of the Family Heritage Alliance, said prayers before city council meetings are appropriate.

“This is not an oddity that our city council opens with prayer. We are in the mainstream of our nation’s Founding Fathers. Our nation was built upon Judeo-Christian values,” he said.

Yvonne Taylor, executive director of the South Dakota Municipal League, said prayers before meetings should be a local decision, that a group outside Rapid City doesn’t need to “stick its nose into.”

“They’re having a pause for prayer. It’s not spending public money. They’re taking a moment. I’m sure they’re doing it in a manner respectful of other religions,” Taylor said.

Right, I’m sure Muslims are just jumping for joy during every invocation…

This isn’t about money — this is about respecting the beliefs of everybody by remaining religiously neutral. FFRF isn’t asking the Council to say that God doesn’t exist; it’s asking them to have a moment of silence as a neutral compromise. Unfortunately, the people who are on the council don’t seem to get it.

Last night, members of the Legal & Finance Committee voted unanimously to draft a policy regarding the future of the invocation — but they were leaning toward keeping the prayers:

… Council Member Steve Laurenti said he believed that prayers are protected speech under the First Amendment.

“I believe this prayer is the free exercise thereof,” he said. “This municipal government is not making any law respecting any type of religion.”

City Attorney Joel Landeen said the policy could be adopted after just one reading and one vote by the entire council. He said he expected a policy should be available for the full council to vote on in a couple weeks.

This is just asking for trouble. There’s a reason only Christian pastors turned out in support of the invocations last night — it’s their prayer that would be removed from the agenda. We’re not talking about a secular, inclusive-to-all invocation here.

If the legal team there is any good, they’ll take the advice of FFRF and change their invocation to a moment of silence. Better yet, they’ll stop wasting everyone’s time and get down to business.

(Thanks to Amanda 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.


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