***Update***: The FFRF sent the council a complaint letter in which they request the Wiccan man be able to give his invocation as well as an FFRF member. I would also urge readers in the area to sign up to give their own non-Christian invocation prayers. If you need an incentive, FFRF is offering rewards to speakers!
***Update 2***: Americans United for Separation of Church and State also sent a letter to the city council.
***Update 3***: Reader Dan wrote a letter to the city council urging them to consider their decision and received this response from council member Bill Kling, Jr.:
Prior to last night’s meeting, I did not know that there was an issue concerning Mr. Kirk. No citizen had contacted me to express concern. No news reporter contacted me. At the meeting, I simply thought that we had a “no show,” and should have let Councilman Showers fill in. Until I read the Al.com story after the meeting, I did not know that there was any issue. I know nothing concerning Mr. Kirk, but am disgusted about the whole situation.
If he didn’t know about any community concerns, who was responsible for denying Kirk from speaking…?
***Update 4***: Reader Ryan also wrote a letter to the city council and received this response from council member Mark Russell. It seems to contradict what the news reports say:
Thank you for contacting me and expressing your concerns. The City Council did not extend or rescind an invitation to Mr. Kirk.
The difficult and thankless task of coordinating the invocations is done by Rev. Broyles of the Interfaith Missionary Service. I appreciate Rev. Broyles work on this and know that there are always going to be those that criticize the choices.
So the council had nothing to do with who delivers the invocation? Still, it shouldn’t matter. Even if Rev. Broyles controls the speaking list, the council did something illegal by not letting Kirk speak (even if they did it indirectly through Broyles).
A couple of years ago, before the Supreme Court ruled that sectarian invocation prayers were legal, the city of Huntsville, Alabama was threatened with a lawsuit for its overuse of Christian invocation-givers. In response, Huntsville City Council President Mark Russell (below) offered a possible solution and his colleague agreed:
A possible compromise, he said, is using a rotating roster of clergy from different faiths. Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Baha’i leaders have delivered a few council invocations through the years, but Russell estimated that 90-95 percent of the prayers are Christian.
“I think we’ll continue to want to open our meeting with a prayer of some sort,” he said.
Councilman Will Culver said he agrees with the idea of an opening prayer that rotates among different faiths.
“That’s the only way to do it, in my opinion,” Culver said Friday. “Everybody should have an opportunity.”
As we know, that’s essentially the solution the Supreme Court went with: People of all faiths must be allowed to give the invocations, but the invocations aren’t going away.
Blake Kirk gave one of those invocations in Huntsville earlier this year and he was set to do it again last night… but his invitation was rescinded for the worst possible reason:
WHNT News 19 confirmed with Huntsville City Attorney Peter Joffrion that Blake had been asked to give the invocation Thursday, but when the agenda was released publicly earlier this week, several council members received community concerns about ‘a Wiccan’ being invited to speak.
“I gave the invocation earlier this year, at the time they did not ask me what my faith affiliation was, but when they did this time and I told them ‘Wiccan,’ I was told I was no longer invited to give it,” Blake told WHNT News 19 from his home Thursday night.
The news segment cited “community fears” as the reason the invitation was rescinded.
(Note to the Christian Right: This is what’s known as “actual religious discrimination.”)
Keep in mind that we have no idea what the “concerns” were, but who wants to bet they were a mix of ignorance and bigotry?
Supposedly, the city council will meet to discuss this matter and invite Kirk back in the future, but it shouldn’t have to come to that. Allowing him to deliver his invocation last night should have been a no-brainer. I promise you community fears would never have prevented a Christian from speaking.
If you’d like to send a message to Council President Russell urging him to do the right thing and apologize before the city is hit with a lawsuit, his contact information is here. (Be respectful.)
(Thanks to Richard for the link)