The Squeaky Wheel February 22, 2008

The Squeaky Wheel

The Port Huron City Council (Michigan) used to have a pre-meeting prayer that anyone could lead. The fact that they had a prayer to lead off meetings is itself a problem… but it’s not the issue at hand.

Khalil “Casey” Chaudry, a member of the City Council, is an atheist. He wanted to lead one of the invocations… and he was denied.


Mayor Brian Moeller previously had denied Chaudry’s request to lead the prayer because, according to Moeller, Chaudry wanted to use the time to protest.

“Mr. Mayor, you have no right to deny me the right to perform the invocation,” Chaudry said at the Feb. 11 meeting.

Moeller bit back.

“I am not going to have a protest done at the invocation.”

So now the rules may be changing a bit. If a new proposal is passed:

Aside from requiring the person leading the prayer be from a recognized church, the change would remove the invocation from the meeting agenda. Instead, it will be offered before the technical beginning of the meeting. No minister will be able to offer the invocation more than three times a year, and a letter will be sent to “all the churches in the Yellow Book,” Moeller said.

Additionally, the mayor will ask, not tell, those wishing to participate to stand and bow their heads.

The changes aren’t to appease nonbelievers. Instead, they will “protect us from any possible lawsuit,” councilman Mark Byrne said.

So the prayer would still go on, but technically, it would begin before the meeting.

Also, atheists would still be denied being able to give the invocation.

If Monday’s ordinance change succeeds, unless Chaudry founds a church and builds a congregation, he likely never will deliver the prayer, despite having been legally ordained.

Sounds like discrimination to me.

And how sad (and pathetic) that a city council wouldn’t want to involve all members of the community in something ceremonial like this… they’re going out of their way to prevent an atheist from speaking.

At least Chaudry seems tenacious:

[Councilman Mark] Byrne, a libertarian, said he has tried to see both sides of the issue and thinks if the resolution does get passed, it would be fair to all parties.

But he isn’t too sure it would stop Chaudry.

“Mr. Chaudry is determined enough,” Byrne said. “He’d probably go through all the hoops we create.”

[tags]atheist, atheism, Nicholas Deshais[/tags]

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Dorsey

    The comments on that article are appalling.

  • Mayor of Smiley Town

    I’m confused. How can they decide what can officially and legally occur before the meeting has started? If the meeting is not in session then how can they regulate what happens?

    In any case, it really is amazing the lengths people will go to to protect their feeble mindedness. I thought we had a little thing called separation of church and state, not separation of church/state and reason.

  • What about a Humanist celebrant?

  • Arlen

    The new solution is a much better answer and seems fair to all parties. I’m not sure why an atheist would want to lead a prayer (under the new system) unless the intention was to disrupt it.

    Presumably religious folks other than Christians will be able to lead the prayer, although the letter of the description above makes it appear to exclude Jewish, Muslim, etc. folks from taking part.

  • QrazyQat

    An atheist might well want to lead an invocation (Merriam-Webster’s 1st def is ” the act or process of petitioning for help or support”). But I don’t see how an atheist can get through a hoop which requires the atheist to be from a church. It’s amazing how fearful these people are of their apparently flimsy faith.

  • Marc

    Hmm. What’s to stop Mr. Chaudry from offering his invocation anyway? He certainly wouldn’t be disturbing the meeting – by definition the meeting hasn’t begun.

  • Ben

    These reminds me of a discussion on a radio talk show. They were talking about who should do the halftime show at the next superbowl. Their first choice would have been Bruce Springsteen, but they reconsidered after hearing that Bruce sometimes goes on political rants during his shows, and thus might do the same during the Superbowl halftime show. I think the same thinking applies here. If they’re going to have the ‘invocation’ or whatever, the person leading it should do it and not use it to serve their own agenda. The real question is whether or not they should be having it in the first place, ie Separation of Church and State.

  • Ben

    But I don’t see how an atheist can get through a hoop which requires the atheist to be from a church.

    ‘Church’ is a legal non-profit status and is fully available to atheists. Check out the North Texas Church of Freethought or the Houston Church of Freethought.

  • Adrian

    In the past, laws or procedural changes which were made with the explicit intention of supporting religion have been struck down as unconstitutional and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if this “prayer is before the meeting” wouldn’t stand up to a challenge. It’s just a shame that it has to go through such lengths just to get around state-mandated discrimination.

  • Richard Wade

    “A letter will be sent to ‘all the churches in the yellow book.'” Maybe they should check that out first. Is there a Port Huron Church of Satan, or a First Church of Aphrodite in the area? Will the Zen Meditation Center or the Wiccan’s Local 535 get a letter? How will they choose from all the applicants who respond to the letter? This could be very entertaining. Imagine how Monty Python would handle this in a sketch.

    What or whom would Chaudry “invoke” anyway? That word means to call in or to call forth. If he is not just trying to be a pain in the neck maybe a transcript of what he wants to say would reassure the good Mayor of his honorable intentions.

  • You know what would be the best solution? How about those who feel they need to pray before the meeting get together and pray with each other on their own time? What’s so hard about arranging to meet a few minutes early in the hallway or the parking lot and doing a quick prayer? Why do they insist on having to be the center of attention and making everyone else listen to their prayers? Why do we need to cater to anyone’s prayer requirements in any way whatsoever? Will god only hear their prayers if they pray together in front of a microphone while everyone else stands and bows their heads?

  • Hello, I personally feel it shouldn’t take place to begin with, or at the very least, leave it open to anyone of all faiths. What they’ve done is limited the invocation to only monotheistic faiths, denying all Native American Spiritualists, Buddhists, or others from performing the invocation. Creating any law that hinders a religious view over another is a restriction of a person’s rights. The Supreme Court has said that a religion, for purposes of the First Amendment, is distinct from a ‘way of life,’ even if that way of life is inspired by philosophical beliefs or other secular concerns,” “A religion need not be based on a belief in the existence of a supreme being, (or beings, for polytheistic faiths) nor must be it be a mainstream faith.” In my opinion, they must either open it to all, or they are allowing themselves an opening to a lawsuit. Why can’t people pray in the privacy of their own home anyway? I may be an Atheist Reverend, but I have read the Bible and Jesus himself said to pray at home or even in a closet. He wasn’t too fond of public prayer. He was also portrayed as a fan of acceptance. I have yet to see any acceptance from this city council. For the record, I am not a city council member.

  • Ben

    @Casey: Totally agree with your first point. The separation of church and state is clear on this. If they’re going to have an invocation, they need to allow anyone to do it. Perhaps putting some guidelines on it would be more fitting. For example: do whatever kind of invocation you want, don’t attack other religions/beliefs, etc.

    Curious about you being an atheist reverend. What’s that all about? Never heard that term before.

    Also, what are you referring Jesus being accepting of? From what I’ve read, he wasn’t that accepting. For instance, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) That sounds pretty exclusive to me. Perhaps you mean the kind of people that Jesus was accepting of, ie tax collectors, prostitutes, the poor, etc etc etc.?

  • Only reason I’ve become a legally recognized Reverend is because I was told that I may not do the Invocation unless I was an Ordained Reverend.

  • Ben

    Interesting. You learn something new each day 🙂 What about my second question tho?

  • When Jesus sent his disciples out to preach, he told them that if they came into a city where they were not welcome, to just brush your feet off and continue walking. That was the reference I was making.

  • Ben

    Casey, you could even get a ‘congregation’ by starting a Port Huron Atheists Meetup group:

    It shows 17 people in zip code 48060 wanting such a meetup. It does cost $12/ month, though.

  • Ben


    You’re referring to Luke 9:5 I’m assuming, although the verse is repeating in the other Gospels:

    “And whosoever will not receive you, when ye go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet for a testimony against them.”

    Hope I’m not badering you, but how does this show Jesus as a fan of acceptance?

  • Regarding Casey’s comment:

    He [the J-Man] was also portrayed as a fan of acceptance.

    Usually when people talk about Jesus being more accepting, I think it means that Jesus spent more time with the rejects of society (prostitutes, lepers, etc) than with the powerful or mainstream. He did not wait for people to be perfect before accepting them.

    Quite unlike many of his followers.

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