Mayor Who Refused to ‘Support an Organization That Does Not Believe in Jesus Christ’ Issues Public Apology

Last week, the Vero Beach City Council (in Florida) was set to proclaim June 16-23, 2013 as “Humanist Recognition Week” — normally just a formality — but two of the five council members objected to it.

One of them was Mayor Craig Fletcher:

When the council went over the agenda at the start of the meeting, Fletcher asked that the item about the proclamation be removed entirely. His reasoning? “I refuse to support an organization that does not believe in Jesus Christ. I’ll have nothing to do with it.”

It wasn’t just the Humanists of the Treasure Coast who objected to what Fletcher said. Other non-Christian groups were offended by Fletcher’s dismissal of them as well.

This afternoon, though, Fletcher issued an apology for his remarks:

“I want to offer my sincerest apologies to anyone whom I may have offended by my remarks last Tuesday at the City Council meeting. It was a horrific statement and on reflection was way out of place for an elected official to take such a strident stance. I hope everyone will find it in their heart to forgive me.

“I was way out of line,” Fletcher said, adding that he decided to offer the apology after reflecting with his wife and pastor.

Wow. That’s a real apology. Not just an “if you were offended” apology, but an “I royally fucked this up” one. It comes a day after a local newspaper published an editorial calling Fletcher out on his “religious intolerance,” so the timing may be a little suspect, but he ended up doing the right thing.

Meanwhile, Vice Mayor Tracy Carroll, who also objected to the Humanist group’s proclamation, hasn’t said anything publicly about her offensive remarks.

I’m inclined to take Fletcher at his word here. I hope he’s sincere. If he is, he’ll show it through his actions. In the meantime, if you feel the same way I do, consider emailing him and letting him know you appreciate the apology and urge him to back it up with his actions.

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.

  • randomfactor

    Bravo to him for doing this. As you said, a REAL apology.

  • Matt

    Meanwhile Tracy Carroll is withholding her apology until she finishes Googling “secularism”.

  • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

    Props for the real apology, you don’t often see those. *tips hat*

  • Anna

    I’m glad to see him make a sincere-sounding apology, but I suspect it was only because Jewish people complained. If it had just been atheists and not the other non-Christians, I doubt he would have responded this way.

    • WallofSleep

      I was just thinking the same thing. Still, it is nice to see an actual apology for once, and not the standard, corporate HR “I’m sorry you feel that way” bullshit.

      • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

        count me in this club, i guess we’re cynics or something. FL is chock full of (often rich) Jews and people of other faiths beyond southron xtianity. i’m sure he got a call from a donor who was all like “bitch, you did not just say that. do you want a check this fall or what? apologize. now.”

        • WallofSleep

          Don’t get me wrong. I do think his apology was sincere. His motives, on the other hand…

          • Kodie

            Yeah, if you insult non-Christians generally, non-Christians suddenly get offended, but nobody sticks their neck out for a direct slur against atheists.

    • JET

      I feel like giving him the benefit of the doubt. He surely has not changed his mind about the superiority of his Christian faith, but maybe he now better understands his role as a representative of a secular government.

    • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger?feature=mhee GodVlogger (on YouTube)

      Unless he explicitly acknowledges WHY his comments were inappropriate, it sounds HOLLOW.

      Why does the apology not say “I was wrong to let my personal religious preference bias the comments that I made explicitly in my role as a governmental official.”??

      Unless he can articulate WHY he was wrong, it just sounds like he is trying to dodge the heat that he is is starting to get on this.

  • ElNerdoLoco

    I am not sure it is worth congratulating a man who said something horrible and then apologized when there are plenty of other non-horrible people who could have his position. I mean, I am glad he did the right thing after doing a wrong thing, but the wrong thing did not have to happen.

    • stop2wonder

      It wouldn’t be a congratulations so much as an acknowledgement of the attempt to right a wrong. It’s a pat on the back, not a hip hip hooray.

      • http://www.facebook.com/anonomouse.fred Anonomouse Fred

        Indeed, based on the headline I was braced for another standard political NotApology.

    • cripdyke

      There is hardly a daily task out there at which human beings are worse than admitting when we are wrong and taking responsibility.

      It is sad that it requires praise, but the general expectation here was for a not-pology. The ubiquity of not-pologies which leads to such expectations should tell you all you need to know about why we would want to issue praise when someone not only does it right, but does it right when the spotlight is on and emotions are running high.

      Of course he was wrong in the first instance – he even [even he!] says so.

      But issuing a true apology with grace under the spotlight is something he did well and we can praise him for that.

    • Tom

      Do you know how rare it is to get a not-notpology from a politician these days? Maybe it looks like we’re overreacting, but it’s really something that needs encouraging.

    • baal

      Think of it as positive reinforcement to support a behaviour change. It also makes us atheist look good to thank him for the apology. The context is that we’re fighting an uphill PR battle so every little bit helps.

  • http://nwrickert.wordpress.com/ Neil Rickert

    I agree that it seems to be a real apology.

    The puzzle with all of this is that Christians are supposed to be humanists too. And perhaps the mayor finally realized that.

    • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

      When I was growing up in the Southern Baptist Church, Humanism was the bogey-man. They might as well have called themselves devil worshipers and the “Humanist Manifesto” was touted as the worst thing ever published.

    • UWIR

      Actually, Christianity is rather troublesome from a humanist perspective. If Christian Morality does not differ from Humanist Morality, then it’s just Humanist Morality with a bunch of useless stuff added. If it differs from Humanist Morality, then it must, in some circumstances, command that sacrifice human well-being for the sake of Christian theology. Consider the Euthyphro dilemma:

      “Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is commanded by God?”

      If the former, then why do we need God? Why not appeal directly to morality? And if the latter, then why is this conception of “morality” one that we should follow? A prime example of the latter is the movie Time Changer. This movie starts with a man telling a boy that he shouldn’t steal because theft is unjust. A theologian, however, actually takes issue with this, saying that theft is wrong because Jesus says so, and any other reason is irrelevant, and in fact dangerous. According to this philosophy, morality might coincide with doing what’s good for people, but any such correspondence is merely coincidental, and based your morality on what’s good for people is sinful.

    • baal

      My CCD classes specifically tried to discredit secular humanism. My support for it (and swaying the other confirmation students) was the straw too many that got me thrown out of the classes.

  • SirReal

    Too bad he needed to consult his religious professional prior to issuing the apology, though. I could understand consulting his wife and his office staff but heaven forbid his making an apology without asking his pastor if it’s okay.

    It’s a fake apology because he’s a politician, he still feels that way but he now feels the need to hide it so people will vote for him again. As soon as he uttered that sentence, he was doomed.

    • MD

      I guess he needed to be told he wasn’t making Jesus cry.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    This ‘may’ have been an even better apology if he had not qualified the fact that he most certainly did offend people. No ‘may’ about it.

    • Tom

      Agreed. But at least it’s mostly a real apology. It’s certainly not a full-blown notpology, but I guess it’s real hard to take that last “may” out. If I were writing it I’d probably struggle not to put even one word in to soften such a blow too, considering I’d be delivering the blow to myself.

      • Tom

        Or at least, it mostly looks like a real apology.

  • Art_Vandelay

    I’m sorry, but those are just words. I don’t see that as accepting accountability at all. Apparently he talked to his wife and pastor after getting lambasted in the media and chose to apologize. Where’s the explanation? Why did you think as a public official it was okay to discriminate against humanists? Why as a public official do you have such a terrible understanding of the constitution? What steps are you taking to ensure that your bigotry isn’t reflected in the way you chose to govern in the future? Those are the questions that need to be answered.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

      there you go again, expecting meaningful actions from xtians when they are proven wrong and hateful. silly rabbit.

  • Paul Little

    I don’t know. Sure, he said he was, “out of line.” He did not, however, admit to any actual wrongdoing.

  • Rain

    I for one welcome our new overlord.

  • closetatheist

    I’m proud of him for having the capability to realize that, although he may personally think that organizations who don’t worship the jeebus man shouldn’t be publically celebrated, as a publically elected official his personal beliefs about non-religious organizations don’t matter. He seems very sincere, kudos to you, sir.

  • Taz

    I wonder how this would have played out if he’d said “an organization that does not believe in god” rather than “an organization that does not believe in Jesus Christ”.

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      Yes, I have a sad suspicion that if the Mayor had only spat on atheists, then the non-Christian groups would not have cared at all, and they would not have joined the humanists to voice their objections. Elected officials across the country frequently insult nonbelievers instead of non-Christians, and the religious minority groups are either silent or they join in and agree with the insult.

      When some bigot says hateful things about Jews, lots of non-Jewish
      religious people and atheists express their outrage. But when the very same hateful things are said about atheists, …we’re on our own.

      The Mayor’s apology was good, with no ifs or buts. But I don’t think he was apologizing to the humanists. He was apologizing to those other groups. If only the Humanists of the Treasure Coast were complaining, I’m afraid he would not be apologizing at all.

      As is often the case, I really hope I’m wrong.

  • David Wood

    Fletcher was standing by his comments yesterday but now that other faith communities have complained, he seems contrite. I’ll be watching his actions a lot more closely now that he’s on my radar. He’s part of my community even though I live the city just south of Vero Beach. I shop there, my grandparents owned property and lived there, and many of my friends currently live there.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    i guess i’m less offended by the “may” part than i am the “forgive” part. dood, i’m not a member of your religion, i don’t think “forgiveness” is the most important quality, and while i understand you’re a politician covering all your bases with the “may” thing, the insertion of “forgiveness” makes this a not-pology for me, sort of. it’s like saying it’s ok for me to believe jeebus isn’t real, but i still have to subscribe to xtian beliefs about what matters most in life. that’s pretty much, if only weak, a FAIL.

    • baal

      I was tripping over the same part. When I apologize, I want the apology accepted and understand that it may be a while to regain trust. I’m not shooting for forgiveness.

  • SeekerLancer

    I admit. I totally came here expecting another not-pology along the lines of, “I’m sorry… that you don’t believe in Jesus,” but I’m quite happily shocked at how sincere he was.

    Regardless of his reasons for apologizing, credit is given where credit is due. Well done Mayor Fletcher. This is an apology I have no issue accepting.

  • fsm

    Sincere politician – oxymoron

  • Anoon

    Another insult to the First Amendment.
    These politicians have no business in office.

  • bostongraf

    Just sent him this email:

    “I read about your dismissal of Humanist Recognition Week and was left shaking my head. Today I read about your apology and was touched by the obvious sincerity and humility that was expressed. It is a rare thing to see anyone show such honesty and I believe wholeheartedly that you have been through a reflective experience in which you saw a mistake, truly felt ashamed, and truly wished to atone for it. The words of your apology were wonderfully chosen and you deserve much credit for composing and speaking them.

    Thank you for being an outstanding, honest, and thoughtful human.”

  • Drew M.

    An honest mea culpa is refreshing, and a lot of times, difficult. Kudos for doing it the right way, Mayor Fletcher.

  • smiles

    I would have been happier if the both of them resigned. Apology or not, if you alienate a large population you are supposed to be representing…you should leave the task to more capable hands.

  • Monika Jankun-Kelly

    Christians always say this is about “offending” us. It’s about disenfranchising us. It’s about disrespect. It’s about making us second-class citizens. So sick of the word “offensive”. It’s used to dismiss our grievances.

  • Donna

    I wouldn’t have apologized. Do atheists apologize when they try to enforce their religion of non-belief? I don’t see anyone else apologize except Christians. Jesus Christ never apologized. He was crucified and never apologized while on the Cross. He did something phenomenal, He Rose from the dead and on Ascension opened the Gates to Heaven, no atheist or other religion could ever dream of accomplishing that. In fact their dreams will become unimaginable nightmares, and I say that out of charity.

    • Sweetredtele

      I’m sorry I try to enforce my non-belief in Thor, Bigfoot, unicorns, santa, the easter bunny,Wodin, all the other gods i don’t believe in. Do you ap0logize for enforcing your non-beleif in an infinite number of possible gods?

      Why would Jesus apologize? God can’t make mistakes, right? Hercules did many phenomenal things. All demi-gods do.

      Nice threat with the nightmare bit. “Believe in me or I’ll torture you forever!”-love, Jesus.

    • Kodie

      In fact their dreams will become unimaginable nightmares, and I say that out of charity.

      You are a warped individual. You are just brainwashed. When you die, Jesus will not be there to greet you. I am just saying that to be charitable.

      Atheists don’t try to enforce any such “religion” of non-belief. If you are talking about keeping Intelligent Design out of school science classes, it’s because that’s a fucking stupid fairy tail disguising as science to gain credibility amongst the gullible like yourself. If you are talking about allowing gay couples to marry and adopt, nobody is forcing you to be gay, marry another woman or have sex with anyone you don’t choose to. If you are talking about anything else, I know you are wrong about it, because so far, you are wrong about everything. I say that also to be charitable.

  • rg57

    Wow. That’s an apology worth accepting.


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