City Council Member Who Wants Prayer at Meetings: ‘This is a Government Institution, Not a Secular Institution’

In Rapid City, South Dakota, the City Council begins meetings with an invocation delivered by a “local minister.“ FFRF has sent them warnings about it, but they haven’t stopped.

City Council member Bill Clayton (center)

Last month, Cole Bedford, a student at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, spoke against the invocations at a Council meeting.

“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.

Council Member Bill Clayton responded to him with the most arrogant thing I think I’ve ever heard someone in his position say:

“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.

Got that, Cole? Stop complaining because you’re not old enough to understand how the laws don’t apply to Christians.

Now, we have an update of sorts to that storyline.

In nearby Meade County, the Commissioners want to “show their solidarity” with their Rapid City counterparts by praying at their next meeting.

At least one person (not on the council) had the good sense to speak out against it:

Meade County rancher Marvin Kammerer was opposed to the idea, suggesting that while Congress opens each session seeking guidance through prayer, it hasn’t worked out in their favor.

He said he believes in the separation of church and state and was among the more than 100 citizens in attendance at the Feb. 4 Rapid City Council meeting. He was one of only two who spoke against the issue.

“This is a secular institution. Prayer doesn’t belong here,” said Kammerer. “Keep it at home. Let’s not clutter the agendas up with things that might lead to potential problems.”

A perfectly sensible response: Stick to the relevant issues and stop using the city council as a way to move up the Fake Christian Martyr Totem Pole.

So how did commissioner Galen Niederwerder respond?

“This is a government institution, not a secular institution,” Niederwerder said.

What the hell?! Government institutions are secular institutions. They’re not Christian or atheist or Jewish institutions. They’re religion-less places.

Galen Niederwerder

The council chairman Robert Heidgerken opposed the prayer idea, but kept his mouth open just long enough to say something Christians are never supposed to say:

We say ‘under God’ in The Pledge of Allegiance. I think that’s asking for His guidance. I would rather leave it like that,” he said.

Damn right it’s “asking for His guidance.” That’s the very argument Christians try not to make when they promote saying the Pledge in school. They say the mention of God is simply a tradition, part of our “religious heritage,” not a Christian statement by any means. Heidgerken’s comment admits it’s really a Christian prayer in thinly-veiled disguise.

Needless to say, despite Heidgerken’s opposition, the prayer measure passed 4-1.

Following the advice of a commentator at the Rapid City Journal, I suggest that Niederwerder’s church hold the City Council meetings there before every Sunday sermon. Since Niederwerder has no problem with those two places merging, I doubt the people at his church will mind the intrusion at all.

Or FFRF can file a lawsuit against them, too. I’d be okay with that.

(Thanks to Collin 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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