Despite Atheist Speaking Out Against It, County Officials Vote to Reinstate Prayer at Meetings

Boyle County Fiscal Court (in Kentucky) used to open meetings with a Christian invocation. After atheist Ricky Smith spoke out against it a couple of months ago, the county replaced that invocation with a moment of silence. For his efforts, Smith was rewarded with harassment by local Christians.

Ricky Smith (Stephanie Mojica – AM News)

Now, there’s an update to the story: Things are not better by any stretch of the imagination.

Last Tuesday, immediately before the official start of the meeting, Magistrate Phil Sammons led the group in prayer:

“Let me have everybody’s attention, please,” said Magistrate John Caywood just before the meeting. “At this time, I’d like to ask Magistrate Sammons to please lead us in prayer. Anybody who’s uncomfortable with this, we’ll give you a moment to step outside.”

Smith was the only audience member who stepped out of the courtroom.

“Our most gracious Heavenly Father, we come to you today with sad hearts,” Sammons said. “We’re so sad that we as a nation have let such a small minority group tell us what to do. Lord, I ask forgiveness for myself, but I’m of the old school where we don’t run, we fight. So, forgive me for that.

“Lord, we ask You to be with us always today … we just ask Your special blessing for this court, this good Christian bunch of people that are always trying to do the right thing for the county. We ask all this in Your Son’s precious name. Amen.”

Who knew a prayer offered by a politician could have such an angry undercurrent to it? Dear Lord, these atheists are so annoying when they ask for “equality” and “respect for the law” but please let us Christians get through this on top.

Then, the meeting officially began… with a moment of silence.

Smith — the one-man watchdog operation — was the first person to offer public comments and, as you might expect, they were respectful and civil:

“This has moved from a separation of church issue to a discrimination issue,” Smith said.

He said having to leave during a prayer “singles that person out” and makes people with differing beliefs into “second-class citizens.”

“By no way, shape or form should government ever, ever single out someone’s belief,” Smith said. “I don’t care if they’re down here at the sheriff’s office or the licensing department …

“This is not an attack on Christians as a lot of people are wanting to take this. This is asking for equality and respect for all people, for all cultures, for all religions … not just for any one group, but all people.”

The other public comments? Not so much:

“In a time when our economy’s in shambles … unemployment is high … and there’s a threat of terrorism and health issues dividing us, do we really want to say to God right now that ‘You’re not welcome,’” [Sam] Irvin said.

“I don’t think that we’re trying to push religion on anybody. I’m a Christian, and I don’t apologize for that.”

Riiiight. He’s not trying to push religion on anybody… other than forcing the local government to say Christian prayers at every meeting.

It’s the very definition of hypocrisy.

And he wasn’t done yet:

In conclusion, Irvin expressed his view that the United States was founded on Christian principles.

“If you’re a Muslim, I think you should be a good Muslim. If you’re a Catholic, you should be a good Catholic,” he said.

“If you’re a good Christian, you should be a good Christian and not go by the rules that the government set but go by the Bible and stand for your Lord Jesus Christ if you believe in Him.”

Other Christians made similar comments, too.

What more is the government looking for? They have an atheist with an understanding of the law who’s making sensible arguments against prayer at public meetings… and Christian after Christian offering awful advice.

So obviously, they went with the Christians and voted to eliminate the moment of silence in favor of a “non-denominational” prayer:

“I don’t agree with it 100 percent … but I will vote for it,” Sammons said regarding the motion to make the prayer non-denominational.

The group then voted 5-0 to have a “non-sectarian” prayer as part of the meeting agenda…

Smith says he’s going to file a lawsuit, and I hope he follows through with that. The public record is very clear that this is all just a ploy to push religion into the public square… and based on how they sound when they speak, these “non-denominational” prayers will inevitably skew Christian.

The Advocate-Messenger, a local paper, issued a scathing editorial against the magistrates’ decision this past Friday:

We think the court had it right the first time. We also regret that a body usually known for well-run meetings has been so distracted by deciding how to start them.

Our faith and our many local churches play vital roles in our community’s sprititual and civic life.

But county meetings are for conducting the business of every county resident regardless of faith. They are not for holding church.

It will be difficult to ensure the invocations don’t become thinly-veiled proselytizing — of the religious or political variety — let alone non-denominational. There is also the matter of whether holding a prayer seconds before the meeting starts in the location of the meeting is a distinction without a difference.

At least there are other intelligent people in the area who get it.

If only they were the ones in power.

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.

  • Gideon

    I’ll paraphrase those priceless quotes. “We believe in tyranny of the majority here.” And: “We believe in the supremacy of religious law over constitutional law.”

  • texan

    I was going to suggest he made a mistake leaving the room, but to then come back and point out how that separated him from the process was even better than refusing to go. sorry he’s in such an uncomfortable position, but good on you, Mr. Smith, for taking their abuse to support what’s right.

  • C Peterson

    Yet another example of Christianity leading people towards poor ethical decisions, and of dogma causing people to accept as truth things which are factually wrong, without doubt.

  • Achron Timeless

    Can’t say I’m surprised really. I was kinda surprised they backed down on the prayer without making complete and utter asses out of themselves the first time.

    Now this looks more like the state I know and loathe.

  • pauleky

    Hmmm…so, you hate an entire state based on the actions of these asses? I am a lifelong Kentuckian. Yes, I hate the backwardness of many of its citizens. However, to paint an entire state based on that is just as ignorant as those you “loathe.” It’s always sad to see folks use ignorance to bash ignorance. Kentucky has a lot to offer and a lot of great people. Blanket statements are usually ignorant and I’m sure you don’t appreciate them when made about non-believers.

  • Carmelita Spats

    Crucified-Christ-on-a-Gluten-Free-Cracker…If I were a Christian, I’d be immensely offended at public prayer. Period. The Lard commands his devotees to pray in secret, stuffed inside in a three-square-foot prayer CLOSET…Christians just don’t read their bible or pay attention. They are as confused as a cow on Astroturf yet they think they can tip-toe into church on Sunday morning and all is a-ok with Jesus. Incorrigible public blathering makes Baby Jesus cry: “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.” (Matthew 6:6).

  • cipher

    “We’re so sad that we as a nation have let such a small minority group tell us what to do. Lord, I ask forgiveness for myself, but I’m of the old school where we don’t run, we fight. So, forgive me for that.

    While he’s at it, he should ask forgiveness for being a drama queen.

  • Achron Timeless

    Having lived in this backwards cesspool my entire life, which has brought us the Creation Museum and the education budget has been decimated to make room for the tax cuts and highway development they’re doing for the Ark Encounter themepark, well I’ve got the same claim to familiarity that you’re making.

    You expected me to be from somewhere else didn’t you? Your defense kinda sucks now.

  • C Peterson

    Hating a state is not the same as hating all its residents.

    It is quite proper to broadly paint Kentucky (along with most of the South) as backwards, ignorant, and socially primitive. This doesn’t mean that every person with the misfortune of living in this region has those characteristics, but it is, nevertheless, broadly accurate. We talk about poor countries even though they have rich people. We talk about terrorist nations even though most of their citizens are not terrorists. And we talk about the ignorant South.

  • coyotenose

    Hyperbole, idioms, and generalizations with very obvious unspoken qualifiers aren’t ignorant actions.

    Being ignorant of how hyperbole, idioms and generalizations work? That’s pretty damn ignorant.

  • Rain

    I thought they were supposed to turn the other cheek. I didn’t know it meant the posterior cheek. Basically they “mooned” everyone who isn’t in their religion.

  • Librepensadora

    What really stood out for me was the exclusion of Catholics from the “Christian” umbrella. When I was growing up Catholic it meant eating fish on Friday and never missing mass–still celebrated in Latin–on Sundays or holy days. Then came Vatican 2 and Catholics tried to fit in with Protestants by having their Sunday services in English, reading the Bible, and eating meat seven days a week. But the whole fundamentalist schtick is still as much anti-Catholic (and would be anti-Orthodox if they knew their Christian history) as it is anti-atheist. Just a couple of examples: Catholics and Orthodox don’t say the Lord’s Prayer (which ends “for thine is the kingdom..”) but the Our Father, which ends “but deliver us from evil. Amen.” Catholics also number the ten commandments differently.

    No, I am not Catholic any more. I decamped to a liberal Protestant church over 30 years ago.

  • allein

    How long before someone argues that it’s his own fault because he’s chosen to separate himself by leaving the room?

  • Kat

    “If I were a Christian, I’d be immensely offended at public prayer.”

    I used to be a Christian, and I was. I was deeply uncomfortable with it, both because of that verse you mentioned and because of the general tendency of those who pray in public to turn it into some bizarre dramatic spectacle. It’s even worse in a restaurant, when you’re not only embarrassed but also starving (and of course, they always wait until the food gets there, so you can smell it the whole time and think about how cold it’s going to be by the time they finish). But yeah, public prayer annoyed me even when I was on board with prayer as a general concept.

  • chicago dyke

    you’d think if these people were so “christian” they’d get out of “evil gummint” and get busy clothing and feeding the poor. of which KY has many. who are in need of jeebus’ love right now.

  • Mario Strada

    “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.” (Matthew 6:6).

    How much would it cost to make a plaque with this verse and donate it to them to display in their building?

    Actually, I’d be happy to spring some money for a stone monument, to be offered as a gift but only mentioning that a group of concerned citizens wish to donate a slab of stone with a bible verse inscribed on it.

    I’d love to see their faces at the inauguration and each and every day they meet and have to walk past it.

    Ideally, a religious group that’s against these kind of public displays of faith should donate it.

  • Mario Strada


    qui es in caelis,
    sanctificetur nomen tuum.
    Adveniat regnum tuum.
    Fiat voluntas tua,
    sicut in caelo et in terra.
    Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie,
    et dimitte nobis debita nostra sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris.
    Et ne nos inducas in tentationem,
    sed libera nos a malo.

    Notice how even then, FIAT was trying to push their cars to the faithful.

  • Compuholic

    I have a great idea. They hold a prayer and tell their god how sad they are that they have let minorities influence their decisions. I hold a prayer to his noodliness the FSM that it may issue these poor christians in this room with a brain.

  • Bad_homonym

    I think it is more an argument of ” in good conscience I must leave for this discriminatory portion of the proceedings ” and kudos to him for it!

  • Bad_homonym

    That would look great beside the 10 commandments plaques they always want at courthouses!

  • TychaBrahe

    I want to go there with a group of Pagans and when they stand to pray start singing in loud clear voices: “Isis, Astarte, Diana, Hecate, Demeter, Kali, Inanna!” When then interrupt us, because you know they will, I want to say, “Oh, but I thought this was the time for prayer. We’re praying.”

    I want them to throw us out of their meeting, and I want it on record that we were removed for praying to a different god from theirs.

  • Pureone

    Actually, he did make a mistake leaving. Since the meeting had not officially started, he could be justified in talking into his phone or to another person or whatever in that room the whole time they were praying. He wouldn’t be disturbing the meeting nor an official prayer.