In 2010, the Rowlett City Council in Texas changed their prayer policy. They used to have Christian prayers, then the Freedom From Religion Foundation warned them of the repercussions of doing that, so the council opted to go with non-sectarian prayers.
But since the town is predominantly Christian, those “non-sectarian” prayers turned out to be almost all Christian prayers, anyway.
Local atheists called them out on it last year:
“How would they like it if they were forced to pray to Muhammad or Allah or Ganesha the Hindu God — any of the others out there, because that’s what they’re doing to us,” said [atheist Chad] Aldridge. “They just don’t see the error that they are oppressing a smaller minority in us the atheists, the Hindus, any Muslims or even Jews in this town that don’t believe in Christ’s divinity and don’t want it enforced on us at the meetings.”
The atheists say they will keep fighting for the change.
“Just because there are more Christians in Rowlett, does not give them the right, in the United States, to leave others out,” said Terry McDonald from the Metroplex Atheists.
The atheists said they would accept a moment of silence, but the city council said they wouldn’t budge… because all the people who mattered were Christian:
“The established bodies of religion in Rowlett are Christians,” Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Michael Gallops. “There’s a Catholic church here, there are multiple denominations of churches but there aren’t any from other religions.
“There is no reason for us to change the policy, the policy is constitutional, the policy is neutral, it’s non-discriminatory we’re gonna stick with it,” said Gallops.
Yep, the policy was non-discriminatory… to everyone in the majority. And it was “neutral” to anyone who thinks religion is the default mode for government meetings.
The organization, backed by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, is giving the city 10 business days to respond to a request to add two of its Rowlett members to the list of those who can give the invocation at council meetings.
“We would still rather see no invocation at all in government meetings, but if they’re going to have them, we want to push for equal time,” said Randy Word, president of the area group, which has been battling the city for four years.
Rowlett leaders said they were not changing their policy… which all but guaranteed a lawsuit:
City Attorney David Berman said Tuesday that Rowlett’s position was unchanged and that the city probably wouldn’t respond to the letter. Mayor Todd Gottel also reaffirmed his stance.
“As long as I’m mayor, we are going to pray,” Gottel said Wednesday.
And as long as Gottel was mayor, the taxpayers in Rowlett would be throwing away their money to cover FFRF’s legal fees.
This Tuesday, the Metroplex Atheists Rowlett group is planning a protest before the City Council meeting:
Metroplex Atheists Rowlett is calling for a protest at the city hall on 9/16 at 7PM, which is 30 minutes before the council meeting officially begins. The intent of the protest is to bring attention to the discrimination against atheists giving the opening invocation and not the fact that the meetings are opened with an invocation. Resident Rowlett atheists will then speak to the council during the citizens input portion of the meeting.
All they want is for two of their members to be added to the approved list of celebrants.
It’s a simple request, but for the stubborn Christianity of Rowlett city officials. FFRF is giving the city all the opportunities it can to avoid a lawsuit, but the city isn’t budging, even though it would lose this case. If you live in the area, please let me know they’re making a mistake.
(Large portions of this article were posted earlier)