Before the Greece v Galloway Supreme Court ruling earlier this year, the Atheists of Butte County (in California) sent a letter to the Chico City Council urging them to put a stop to their invocation prayers.
In light of the ruling, they revised their suggestion: Okay, keep the invocations, but we want to start making them, too. And that should be a perfectly legal move. The City Council isn’t legally allowed to deny them that opportunity!
So instead, the council’s just ignoring them.
Here’s the atheist group’s leader George Gold:
The mayor has yet to respond to our repeated requests to be included in the invocation rotation so we can remind people that what makes our government blossom is our ability to negotiate and discuss practical and societal issues in an open environment free of religious doctrine.
If our local elected officials wish to continue praying before meetings, we expect them to abide by the law as defined by the Supreme Court and provide the Atheists of Butte County an opportunity to deliver a nontheist unifying message that embraces all citizens as equal participants in the process of local government.
I sent an email to City Council leaders last night asking how they plan to response. I’ll post an update if/when I hear back from them.
***Update***: I received an email from Dani Brinkley, the Deputy City Clerk (which was CC’ed to the council members). It said the following:
As the staff member responsible for the annual invocation recruitment and scheduling the invocations, I would like to inform you of the process the City uses.
The process used is to do a yellowpages.com search for churches or religious organizations. The City previously used the actual phone book, but has for the past 3 years used the online search. The criteria used is it has to have a Chico address and a building location of meetings. A search of yellowpages.com and a search through the phone book could not produce a listing for Atheists of Butte County. We do not perform individual searches for individual groups, organizations, or churches. However, if this group had come up during the search, they absolutely would have been included in the recruitment mailing.
Prior to the most recent communication from the group requesting to be included in the rotation, the last communication we received was in July 2013 from an attorney representing some members of the group objecting to the invocations and requesting the City to discontinue the invocations.
Brinkley also added another correction to something mentioned in Gold’s piece:
I would finally like to correct that the City DID NOT reach out to Rajan Zed, who is based in Reno, NV. Mr. Zed has been contacting the City for a number of years requesting to attend specific Council meetings. His requests, which were received by email, letter or phone call, were denied because the invocations are scheduled in September for one year out and because he is not representing a local Chico organization or group. It so happened that Mr. Zed called requesting to provide the invocation on a date specific and the person who had been scheduled had just canceled. With the permission of the Mayor, Mr. Zed filled in for the person who canceled. The City did not reach out to Mr. Zed and we do not include him in the recruitment mailing.
***Update 2***: The phone book idea is an awful one. It effectively discriminates against minority religious groups that don’t have the money for a physical space (or even a phone number). This seems like a lawsuit waiting to happen.