Florida elected officials walk out on atheist invocation

Atheists face official bigotry and discrimination in Lake Worth, Florida: In an act of disrespect, four out of five City Commissioners, including Mayor Pam Triolo, walk out of a commission meeting to avoid hearing an atheist invocation.

As Preston Smith, the invited speaker and an atheist, approached the podiuum to give the invocation for the commission meeting last week, Mayor Pam Triolo and three other city commissioners abruptly walked out of the room in order to avoids hearing the atheist speak.

Mayor Triolo at first refused to explain her disrespectful and unprofessional behavior. However, after being pressed by local media, Triolo said:

“I didn’t leave because Mr. Smith is an atheist, I left because of his alleged tweet.”

Triolo claims Smith tweeted an offensive interpretation of scripture earlier this summer, and  feared his prayer might be along those lines.

Triolo said:

“Free speech works both ways. You can say what you want and I can choose to leave.”

Triolo’s excuses ring hollow, and seem a desperate attempt at damage control, especially after one considers the fact that Smith was invited to the meeting to give the invocation.

The other city commissioners who left: Scott Maxwell, Andy Amoroso and John Szerdi, are currently in hiding, refusing to comment on their role in the disrespectful and unprofessional display.

Michael Mayo, Sun Sentinel Columnist, reports:

The lone commissioner who stayed, Christopher McVoy, told me he thought it was disrespectful and “un-American” for the commissioners to walk out. He also found it “weird” that they all marched out at the same time, and wondered if there was any prior discussion amongst the group about their seemingly coordinated action.

If there was, that would raise questions about a possible Sunshine Law violation. Two or more commissioners are not supposed to talk to each other about matters that might come up at meetings or official city business without public notice.

McVoy is correct, the behavior of his fellow city commissioners was “disrespectful” and “un-American,” a shameful display of naked bigotry and prejudice.

And it does appear as if the four commissioners who walked out are guilty of violating the Sunshine Law.

As for Preston Smith’s atheist invocation, it was a respectful and tasteful expression. Again Mayo reports:

Smith praised “scientific evidence and critical thinking”and asked for “a better, more equal community without religious divisions.”

He noted that atheists, agnostics and humanists now account for one in five Americans and are “growing rapidly.”

Smith concluded, “Let us all love one another not based on intrinsic rewards now, hereafter or based on superstitious threats of eternal damnation, but rather secular-based principles of morality and doing good for goodness’ sake. And so we pray…so what?”

To watch the cowardly Mayor and the other city commissioners scurry away as the mild mannered atheist approaches the podium is at once both comical and tragic.

If Mayor Triolo and the other city commissioners could see beyond their own ignorance and religious superstition, and deploy the universal quality of empathy, they might begin to understand how offensive and obnoxious it is for atheists, agnostics and other freethinkers to sit through the routine prayers and invocations which usually open such meetings.

The whole fiasco is yet another powerful argument against opening public meetings with prayers and invocations.

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