Last week, I mentioned how Bill Knight, the mayor of Greensboro, North Carolina, decided to have prayers before city council meetings.
Joshua Deaton and other members of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro Atheists/Agnostics/Skeptics attended a city council meeting to voice their opposition to the invocations.
I was finally able to get a transcript of Joshua’s speech — it’s a great example for anyone else who may be in a similar position — and I wanted to share it:
Our Mayor has decided that our City Council meetings shall now begin with prayer. According to the News & Record, Mayor Knight has stated that prayer is a “distinctly American quality and a very necessary element.” According to the same article, the Mayor is aware of the need to be inclusive, to not leave anyone out, so he will invite individuals from different faiths to participate in the invocation.
I find two serious problems with the mayor’s position:
1. The mayor may be working to include persons of all faiths (which is laudable), but non-sectarian prayer still excludes the non-religious (such as myself). The City Council’s previous practice of a moment of silence allowed for persons of all faiths to pray, while refusing to use our city government as a tool to advocate the value of prayer. Was a moment of silence really inhibiting anyone from a private moment of prayer? Of course not. The mayor’s decision is nothing more than a government endorsement of prayer, and an insult to the non-religious residents of this great city.
2. The mayor justified his decision by claiming that prayer is a distinctly American quality, which implies that there is something un-American (or less patriotic) about those of us who do not pray. What if the mayor had justified any other revision of our City Council meetings by insinuating that Catholics or Jews or Muslims were somehow not quite as American as his fellow Methodists? Of course this would not be acceptable. And the mayor’s statement is no more acceptable simply because those who are excluded and whose citizenship is devalued are atheists. Respect for religious liberties is an American quality, and Mayor Knight is certainly entitled to believe whatever he wants about atheists like me. But it is completely unacceptable that he should use the people of Greensboro’s City Council as a platform to advocate his private belief in the necessity of prayer.
Thank you for your time.
(Thanks to Phillip for putting this together!)