The Grand Junction City Council in Colorado has an invocation policy that’s basically designed to give an edge to Christian speakers.
The way it works is that anyone interesting in giving an invocations puts in a request, all the names are entered into a lottery, and the City Clerk contacts the “winners” with a date for their invocation. If they don’t show up or decline the offer, the council just holds a moment of silence instead.
It’s easy to see why a majority-Christian community would love that deal. They’ll always have more entries in the pool, which means their prayers are more likely to be heard at meetings. And even though the city policy forbids proselytizing in the invocations, many of the speakers have uttered the name of Jesus during their prayers.
Local atheists, naturally, would prefer a permanent switch to a moment of silence or nothing at all.
That’s why it was exciting to learn that, for next week’s meeting on August 2, Scott Iles, an atheist, was selected in the lottery. Great! That means we’ll hear a godless invocation, right?
That’s too easy.
Iles is a member of the Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers, and the group has wanted to eliminate the invocations for a long time. At the very least, they’d like to make sure the invocations aren’t almost always Christian.
The Daily Sentinel reports that several council members were disturbed by this possibility. Duke Wortmann said he was “worried” about the “influence of the dark one” and suggested moving to a moment of silence instead. Mayor Rick Taggart agreed.
For what it’s worth, the current invocation policy doesn’t say anything about speaker substitutions. The WCAF, however, fears that the city council may claim substitutions are forbidden just to prevent the Satanist from speaking. That’s why they already have a list of times when Christians invocation speakers were allowed to have someone else to speak on their behalf.
The Daily Sentinel also published an opinion piece urging the city council to move to a moment of silence, spurred by the prospect of a Satanist speaker:
… a satanist might give the invocation at an upcoming Grand Junction City Council meeting.
The issue was unresolved heading into the weekend, but the mere possibility of such a spectacle is a result of bad policy that needs to change.
The council — or any governmental body for that matter — should put an end to the tradition of prayer at government functions where the people’s business is conducted.
[The invocation law] means anyone — including satanists, atheists or members of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster — must be given an opportunity to say the opening prayer before a council meeting. Of course the council could drop the prayer altogether or substitute a moment of silence, which we endorse.
The Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers are sure to take some heat for pressing this issue. But they’re simply trying to make local elected officials live up to the rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
Whoever wrote that gets it.
The atheist group hasn’t announced who the Satanist speaker will be, but if the past is any indication, this will be one hell of a memorable speech. If the city council doesn’t want to hear it, the members can change their policy, eliminate the invocations altogether, and just get down to work instead.
(Image via Shutterstock. Portions of this article quoting the newspaper have been removed at their request.)