Christian City Council Member to Young Atheist Speaker: ‘You’re Too Young to Have Wisdom’

Last week, I posted about how the City Council in Rapid City, South Dakota always begins meetings with an invocation delivered by a “local minister.”

At Monday’s meeting, over 100 people showed up to voice their support for the prayer and the council members didn’t mind one bit:

City Council member Bill Clayton (center)

One of the two dissenters who offered a public statement was Cole Bedford, a student at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology:

“This is not a challenge to anyone’s faith. It’s an appeal to your empathy” said Bedford, an atheist who grew up in Sturgis attending church. He added that in a predominantly Christian region, it’s important for a non-Christian to know they have an equal voice in government, a message that holding religious prayers does not send.

Of course, the council members didn’t understand why their Christian privilege would be a problem for anyone else:

“I don’t like being bullied. I don’t like my children being bullied,” council member Chad Lewis said. “I don’t think (praying) hurts anybody. I don’t see where it’s actually offending anybody.

Council member Steven Laurenti passionately defended what he sees as a right to pray.

“What they really want, ladies and gentlemen, is conformity. They want us to conform to a way they would like to see us express religion,” Laurenti said. “That’s not freedom and that’s not the free exercise thereof.”

Actually, FFRF just wants the City Council to follow the law and not treat government functions as church services. That’s not bullying. That’s being a patriot.

But the speech of the night had to go to Council Member Bill Clayton, whose words to Bedford were arrogant, irrelevant, and unbelievably condescending:

“And [my friend, State Rep.] [Kopp] Pete, in his younger years, thought he was an atheist, and in his atheistic views set out to disprove the Bible using science. And the harder he tried to disprove the Bible using science, the more he found that the Bible proved science. I will say this: Christianity is not a religion. And I see laughter, but it’s okay. I was younger once, too, and as we grow older we’re exposed to things in this life. Wisdom, I always say, comes with gray hair and if you don’t have any gray hair, you’re too young to have wisdom.

“Now, Christianity is not a religion of exclusion. Anybody who’s been around any Bible preaching is familiar with John 3:16. “God gave his only beloved son that whosever shall believe in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” It is God’s will that nobody perish. Nobody is excluded. And all of us have heard: love the sinner, hate the sin.

“The Bible is replete with instructions. Our laws of our land come from the Bible. It’s frightening to think how lawless this land might be were we not to have guidance given in that book. I remember a discussion with my son who said I hate all these rules. And he had some terrible examples as a youngster of what was wrong with the rules. And I said, “Well, if there’s no rules, then that means I can choose to do whatever I please. How about if I don’t like driving in traffic, how about I just drive down the sidewalk?” And he said, “Dad that’s crazy, you can’t do that.” I said, “You said no rules.”

“You have to have the rules. And the rules, like it or not, come from that book we call the Bible. I agree that we need a plan and I look forward to giving our city attorney the time to put together that plan so we can move forward and continue in the vein we have been and continue the invocation. I thank all of you for being here tonight.”

Clayton, who has gray hair, is completely ignorant of who holds the wisdom in his exchange. He quotes the Bible as if it holds any weight in a government setting. He believes that, because Jews and Hindus and Muslims won’t go to hell if they accept Jesus, Christianity must be an inclusive religion (though I suspect he would have a problem if a Muslim councilman said “Islam is inclusive” since anyone can say there’s no God but Allah). He thinks our laws are based on the Bible and that, without the Bible, we’d be a nation without any rules at all.

Bedford had the right idea in urging the Council to get rid of their Christian prayers at meetings and the council would be wise to listen him before they get sued. But their pride is in the way and they refuse to listen to the one person who has some knowledge about what the Constitution does and does not allow.

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.

  • icecreamassassin

    Bets on the chances that Bill Clayton has actually read anything in the bible?

    • fsm

      Oh, he has read the passages that his pastor cherry-picked for him to read.

  • McFidget

    To quote a (Judas) Priest:
    “I grow sick and tired of the same old lies

    Might look a little young

    So what’s wrong

    You don’t have to be old to be wise”

  • Jasper

    And yet Cole Bedford has probably employed more critical thinking, logic and reason than the entire council combined, in their entire lives.

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    Christianity is not a religion.

    Something tells me that he has am radio on always in his car and I can guess what network he always has on. I guess I can’t be surprised that O’reilly’s idiocy is spreading.

    • MD

      It’s a RELATIONSHIP. With a zombie.

      • Raising_Rlyeh

        So the bible is the novelized version of Warm Bodies?

      • coyotenose

        Um, ew.

  • Bdole

    And Jesus spake unto those present and admonished them “At a 4-way Stop, yield to thy neighbor who tarrieth at thy right side and delay him not along the path the LORD hath chosen for him.”

    That Amanda Scott of ward 4 is one ugly broad. And, what, no representation for ward 3?

    • Brian Lynchehaun

      Your first point is well said.

      Your second is not. Let’s all move away from the body-shaming.

      • Joe GK

        Not sure you caught the joke.

        • Tainda

          I have noticed some people have problems grasping humor lol

      • Joe GK

        In other less ambiguous words (since for some reason I was downvoted), there is no real body shaming going on here. Take a good, long look at the picture, and really try to get the joke this time.

    • Wild Rumpus

      I know, right? She really doesn’t look like an “Amanda”.

      • Bdole

        Yeah, more like “A man, duh” – credit that groaner to an episode of “Friends” from like 1994.

    • JWH

      The comments regarding Ms. Scott are uncalled-for. If you want to make a substantive point about something Ms. Scott said or did, then do so. But to call her “one ugly broad” is shallow, petty, and immature.

      • Carmelita Spats

        The comments might be “shallow, petty and insecure” but those qualifiers don’t subtract from the essential TRUTH about the pious and unfortunate “Amanda Scott” of Ward 4: she makes Baby Jesus cry. Look again and cringe in savage vaginal pain. I’m guessing that she wears terrifying Jesus-themed
        T-shirts or perhaps muscle shirts tucked way, way into high-waisted denim
        shorts as she walks around the pool and smokes Marlboros and sucks
        in her massive belly and tries to look as if she weren’t as
        confused and discomfited as a water buffalo on the moon. Just sayin’.

      • Joe GK

        Yeah, look at the picture again. There is a joke that you are missing.

      • Wild Rumpus

        “whoosh” is the sound of the joke flying over your head. You really didn’t look at the picture did you?

    • Avery Daswood

      Guys, look at the picture again. Bdole was making a joke about the angle of the photo. Ms. Scott is not in the picture.

      • Bdole

        Exactly. Thank you!
        But, really where did ward 3 go? That’s not just the angle. Is that where all the atheists live or something? They just don’t want us around?

      • Wild Rumpus

        awww don’t explain it – that ruins the joke…

    • The Other Weirdo

      Dude! You winz the Interwebz!

  • Rain

    “You have to have the rules. And the rules, like it or not, come from that book we call the Bible.”

    Classic catch-22. The rules, like it or not, come from the Bible, but the rules, like it or not, also don’t come from the Bible. Lots of them are actually totally opposite of the Bible. Classic catch-22. Okay, yeah so it’s not a catch-22–he’s just lying his demagogue tail off. Hey I was just trying to give him the benefit of the doubt.

  • ortcutt

    “Now, Christianity is not a religion of exclusion…. Anybody who’s been around any Bible preaching is familiar with John 3:16. “God gave his only beloved son that whosever shall believe in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” It is God’s will that nobody perish. Nobody is excluded.”

    See, everyone is included because we are all free to decide to be Christians. Is there any better expression of Christian Privilege than the inability to even comprehend that someone might not be a Christian and not feel welcome by a Christian church service in a government meeting?

    • AJG

      What a maroon. I guess he’s never read past that verse:

      “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” — John 3:18

      Christianity is the most exclusive religion there is.

  • Tainda

    “What they really want, ladies and gentleman, is conformity”

    I laughed so hard at this. Actually, it’s the opposite.

    You keep using that word…

  • JasmynMoon

    I started going gray at 17. I guess if I said the same thing as Mr. Bedford those same words would have been dripping with wisdom.

    • onamission5

      I got my first three grey hairs at 15! I was more wise then than Mr. Bedford is now, so maybe there’s something to that whole grey hair thing after all. ;P

  • Sindigo

    My chin is distinctly wiser than my head. My crotch started getting wiser last year. Which, in fairness would explain why it hasn’t been making such poor decisions the last couple of years.

  • TiltedHorizon

    ” Wisdom, I always say, comes with gray hair and if you don’t have any gray hair, you’re too young to have wisdom.”

    Since Clayton’s ‘wisdom’ can be purchased in any hair dye isle I’ll defer to whose wisdom was profound enough to outlive them:

    “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” ~ Socrates

    “The beginning of wisdom is found in doubting; by doubting we come to the question, and by seeking we may come upon the truth.” ~ Pierre Abelard

    “It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

    “The wise know too well their weakness to assume infallibility; and he who knows most knows best how little he knows.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

    “A man only becomes wise when he begins to calculate the approximate depth of his ignorance.” ~ Gian Carlo Menotti

    “Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something.” ~ Plato

    • WallofSleep

      “A fool will learn nothing from a wise man, but a wise man will learn much from a fool.” – Unknown

      It’s a sure bet that Clayton learned nothing from this encounter. Perhaps he’d find a lesson in a lawsuit?

    • Adam Patrick

      Using that kind of reasoning, my grandfather, who is 78, is too young to have wisdom because he doesn’t have gray hair.

      “With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.” -Oscar Wilde

      • meekinheritance

        Can bald people ever have wisdom?

  • Richard Tingley

    I am starting to think that the only way to get rid of these invocations it to fight fire with fire. Once a few Muslims, Satanists, Jews, Scientologists, etc demand to be able to give an invocation under in guise of “inclusion” they will go away.

    It is not the right way to do it, but it would be an effective one.

    • Quintin van Zuijlen

      Congress once had a Hindu do their invocation. Two or three Representatives thought it so horrible that they shouted over the top of their lungs, exclaming how our was an abomination and the like, before the man could even start with the most non-sectarian invocation ever.

      Anyway, I think Americans United would be best equiped to do such a thing, so I suggest getting in contact with them.

      • Derrik Pates

        That’s pretty much the reaction I would expect, yes. Plus, we’re a small town, so I can see that going all kinds of bad. “Inclusive” indeed.

  • busterggi

    With religious faith comes a lack of wisdom about the rest of the world’s people, their rights, the law, the Constitution as basic human decency as far as I can tell.

  • Richard Wade

    I agree that we need a plan and I look forward to giving our city
    attorney the time to put together that plan so we can move forward and
    continue in the vein we have been and continue the invocation.

    This means he knows they need a legal strategy to be able to continue wiping their asses with the Constitution. He knows what they’re doing is illegal. Since he’s so into “rules,” it would seem he needs to have the rule of law come down on his head, instead of the rules he so conveniently cherry picks from his magic book.

    Lawsuit. Big, fat fines. Do not settle. These arrogant little theocrats will not be moved by reason, or the principle of fairness or equal protection. They will only be moved by force.

  • baal

    I hope these ‘wise’ men are able to tell the difference between themselves as private citizens and as members of a governing body. If my neighbor is a doctor and I’m seeing him in his office, I want him to be a doctor seeing a patient. Similarly, if we’re playing lawn darts (this is ficticious btw), I expect I’m playing a game with a neighbor and not ‘the doctor.’

    I suspect the distinction is lost on this council.

  • Baby_Raptor

    They’ll use any bullshit they can conjure to hold down people who disagree with them.

  • Jasper

    This seems to be an increasing trend. Do these Christians really think that the judicial system is just going to go “oh okay! I guess all this jurisprudence doesn’t’ apply to you because you simply declared that you aren’t a religion and therefore the first amendment doesn’t apply”?


  • Reginald Selkirk

    Bill Clayton: I was younger once, too, and as we grow older we’re exposed to
    things in this life. Wisdom, I always say, comes with gray hair and if
    you don’t have any gray hair, you’re too young to have wisdom.

    Be happy with your wisdom-so-called, Mr. Clayton. I’ll save a seat for you in Hell.

    Jesus H. Christ:
    Matt 18:3 “And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
    Matt 19:14 “But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

  • Jake LeMaster

    Let us turn in out bible to Matthew 6:1-8
    1Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.

    2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

    3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:

    4 That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.

    5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

    6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

    7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

    8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.

    Translation.. STFU Councilmen Bill Clayton

  • Reginald Selkirk

    And the harder he tried to disprove the Bible using science, the more he found that the Bible proved science.

    You bet, I learned all my biology from the Bible. Did you know that you can breed animals with stripes and speckles by putting sticks near their watering trough? (Gen 30) Or that a bat is a fowl, rabbits chew their cud, and insects have four legs? (All from Lev 11)

    • MD

      Or that the moon is a source of light? Or that the earth was made before the sun? Hell yeah, that’s all the science I need to know!

      • Reginald Selkirk

        Since I am a professional research biologist, I don’t need to know that fancy-schmancy physics stuff.

    • Ubi Dubium

      And don’t forget that pi=3, I learned that from the bible too!

    • Tim

      And the cure for leporacy is to kill a bird and rub another bird the first’s blood

    • meekinheritance

      Rabbits don’t eat their cud, but they do eat their poo, due to inefficiencies in their digestive system.

      • Willy Occam

        I wonder why God didn’t address that problem when he invented rabbits. He sure does work in mysterious ways!

  • Bad_homonym

    As my grey hairs began to show , I did gain wisdom. Now I guess I’m old and grey enough not to believe in fairy tales! Amazing how this hair colour thing works!

  • DougI

    Nobody hates quite like a fundy.

  • m6wg4bxw

    This reminds me of a Christian I met in a Christian chat room many years ago. I was expressing doubts and describing problems I found in Christianity. After asking my age, she instructed me that since I was younger than her (by 9 years), that her opinion and perspective were more reliable and credible. So I asked if I could trust my own opinions and perspective when I reached her age. She informed me that she would still be older, and so her opinion would still outweigh mine.

    • lagerbaer

      Can’t argue with that logic, my young padawan.

    • William K Bostic

      Trying to force a fundie to see the other side of the argument I said “you think that Hindus are crazy for their myriad of gods but how would they look at you when you speak of miracles and walking on water”. With haste he responded “YEAH BUT WE ARE RIGHT”. And there you have it.

      • m6wg4bxw

        And how do you know you’re right? “I just know.” I sympathize. I’ve been in that argument too. They have faith that their arguments are valid. It used to make me absolutely crazy, but I have learned; I have healed.

        • metalsheep

          Just have to share. When I was still a Christian, I was talking to
          another Christian about a political issue. She claimed that she was
          right because of her faith, and when I said that I had the same faith,
          she asked “How do you know you’re right?” That one question made me
          question my faith like nothing else had, and now I am a happy atheist.
          Not saying that it was solely because of that conversation, but it
          definitely was a turning point in my life.

          Even if it doesn’t seem like you’re accomplishing anything, you might be doing more than you know. :)

          • m6wg4bxw

            I know you’re right about that, but sometimes it’s hard not to be cynical. It’s the unwavering faithful facade that they show to the world, especially to nonChristians. The clockwork must surely engage on some of the criticism they hear. It sure would be nice to witness in real time, huh?

            Thanks for sharing. It’s encouraging.

    • Wild Rumpus

      Are you a man? Did you bitch slap her with the old 1 Timothy 2:12?

      • m6wg4bxw

        Actually, I told her about an atheist older than her. I don’t remember who, but it might have been Dawkins. No surprise that it didn’t effect her. But after a bit of age-established-authority one-uppy, I summarized it all by saying that the both of us are subject to the religious opinion of the oldest person on Earth, which would change often..

        • Randomfactor

          I seem to recall a fairy tale I was once told about a youngster confounding the priests of the Temple in Jerusalem with his wisdom.

          • coyotenose


        • coyotenose

          And who, if I’m not mistaken, is more often than not Japanese, was raised to believe in nature spirits, but doesn’t especially care either way.

  • Lagerbaer

    Funny how a young atheist gets dismissed because he’s not wise enough yet to have fully contemplated all the religious fluff, but those folks would never question the wisdom of children and teenagers when they profess belief in a religion.

    • J-Rex

      Absolutely. Young people with the “right” political or religious beliefs are wise beyond their years, but if we’re atheists or liberals, we’re just too young to understand the world.

      • coyotenose

        Seems to be a common theme. I’ve seen it many, many times where religious neocons spout variations of “voters are very smart and not easy to fool”… until an election doesn’t go the way they want. Then suddenly everyone who didn’t vote their way is an uneducated, gullible fool.

    • Derrik Pates

      Right, it’s only “wisdom” when it agrees with their preexisting beliefs.

  • Aajaxx

    The only laws on the books I can think of that are traceable only to the Bible are laws regarding the Sabbath. The commandments of the Ten Commandments are either common to many cultures or else theological commandments that are not in our law at all. Am I missing some?

  • Aajaxx

    The Christian god is not so impressed with wisdom as Clayton. See 1 Corinthians 1:27-29 “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of the world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.”

  • GloomCookie613

    I’d rather trust the wisdom of a young freethinking man over the brand of “wisdom” that Mr. Clayton is spewing.

  • Michael

    I predict the Rapid City Council meetings will continue to open with a prayer and nothing will be done to stop it.

    • Derrik Pates

      No, I suspect word will get back to the FFRF of this. There are atheists and freethinkers in Rapid City, whether our city council chooses to believe it or not. This fantasy of outside persecution (when it was a local’s complaint that started all this) is just that – fantasy.

  • Edmond

    I don’t even see this as a “religious” issue, or a separation of church and state issue at all. I see it as an issue of inappropriate use of work time.
    These people are choosing to perform a RITUAL, rather than begin their jobs at the appointed time and start addressing city busines. No matter WHAT your “rituals” are… putting on make-up and fixing your hair, cutting your toenails, sending pictures of funny kittens to all of your Facebook friends… these are things that need to WAIT until your PERSONAL time. This is NOT what these people have been elected or appointed for, and it is not what they are PAID for.
    They NEED to get to WORK.

    • blasphemous_kansan

      What makes it both a seperation of church and state issue AND a religious issue is that they are going to CHURCH while being paid by the STATE, which includes taxpayers who might not share their faith, meaning a government endorsement of one religion over another, which is not allowed.

      The rest of what you say is true. It could be argued that on a ‘bottom-line’ level that infractions like this could be equated to any waste of work time, but this infraction is actually illegal, while generally wasting time at work isn’t.

      Now I have to….uh, get back to work :)

    • Derrik Pates

      Exactly. It would be equally inappropriate for my employer’s CEO to lead us in daily prayer (or bring someone in to do it). The City Council is (or at least I think of it as) a *workplace*. In the workplace, your religion should be irrelevant, whether you work for the government or a private employer.

  • MariaO

    Unwise man thinks he knows everything when he sits at home.
    But nothing he knows when his wisdom is tested by others.

    Havamal (the wisdom of Odin), my translation

  • RCResdent

    Just want to clarify the photo is from an odd angle, the guy with Clayton’s name under him in the photo is Sasso, and although he spoke for the prayer we had a very nice exchange afterwards and I think he understands but has to play politics. Clayton, in the photo is the balding guy in the ugly sweater.

    Clayton is embattled and is being asked to resign from the council after he told an african american newswoman she should go back to kenya with Obama.

  • coyotenose

    Having had gray hairs since I was 15, I have long possessed the wisdom to tell an asshole from an elbow, and you, Bill Clayton, Sir, are no elbow.

  • Rain

    Christianity is not a religion.

    Then in the next paragraph…

    “Now, Christianity is not a religion of exclusion.”

    Yeah brilliant. Anyway, since it’s not a religion, then they won’t mind not praying–so I don’t see what the big deal is. Oh wait, I totally forgot he’s a lying demagogue.

  • kielc

    I wish I lived close enough to attend those meetings every week to protest…

  • Lee Miller

    These loons are everywhere, and the number of people who vote for them and support their decisions is alarming. Sadly, only conservative/evangelical/fundamentalist Christians lack enough intelligence and decency to push this kind of agenda; members of other religious groups have the common sense not to parade their religious beliefs as part of government business (at least in this country). Hence the lack of other clergy asking to lead invocations. I’d love it if Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, and other clergy were in the queue to take their turn, just to see the Christians explode, but it’s not on their agenda to do public performances of this type.

  • jdm8

    He should know that the Biblical Timothy had credibility problems because he was so young. Also, age is no guarantee of wisdom. A young fool can easily grow up to be an old fool, and some of those old fools become council members.

  • Mad Hominem

    Too bad I wasn’t there; I’ve had white hair since I was 12.

  • Dal Bryn

    Ah South Dakota, my home state is always making me proud.

  • SeekerLancer

    Because all these non-Christian nations are just full of lawless anarchy!

    What a moron.

  • Cuttlefish

    Any fool knows… (or at least Lear’s Fool):

    “Thou shouldst not have been old before thou hadst been wise”

  • alconnolly

    You must become as a little child to enter into the kingdom of heaven. -Jesus Philosopher. That dude does not know his bible. Or he has the special edition which reads you must become as a grey haired old man.

  • Steve Willy

    “We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.” Freedom from Religion Found., Inc. v. City of Warren, 707 F.3d 686, 694 (6th Cir. 2013), quoting Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306, 313; 72 S. Ct. 679 (1952).