When it comes to invocations at government meetings, the Supreme Court said last year that prayers are fine — even sectarian prayers “in Jesus’ name” are fine — as long as the process is open to everybody. If they want invocations, city councils must set policy so that even minority faith groups have a chance of delivering them. And we’ve seen the consequences of this for a while now, with atheists, Pagans, and Wiccans making the most of their opportunities.
But that message seems to have escaped the 12 County Council members in Greenville, South Carolina.
They think they already have diversity:
“We’ve had all kinds. We’ve had Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, Pentecostals. We’ve had Jewish rabbis,” said [council member Joe] Dill. “I think it sets the tone for the meeting. The invocation of God’s blessing on a meeting makes it a good, calm atmosphere where a meeting of the minds comes to the table.”
Ah, yes… the diversity of the Abrahamic religions. Minus Islam. And all the other ones.
Upstate Atheists board member Mike Cubelo has made a formal request for someone from his group to deliver an invocation, but he’s gotten no response from the council members.
In fact, when they finally responded to an inquiring reporter, they were mostly dismissive of the very idea of an atheist speaking before a meeting:
“I just feel like that I wouldn’t want to invite a member of the atheist community to come and pray,” said Greenville County Councilman Joe Dill.
Dill says he usually invites ministers from his district to speak before meetings.
Dill said, “A prayer is a lot more serious than just reading a poem.” Cubelo says he’s tried for several weeks to get a response.
Council Chairman Bob Taylor said he isn’t sure he sees the purpose for atheists to do the invocation.
Councilman Fred Payne questions who atheists would represent during an opening speech.
Joseph Baldwin says he’d prefer to invite others to give the invocation.
Councilman Lynn Ballard says he understands their request, but the decision would be up to other board members.
Sid Cates says the invocation should be a prayer. He says the group is welcomed to make a public statement at the end of meetings.
Councilwoman Xanthene Norris says she supports the views of others, but will have to give the topic more thought.
Five other council members weren’t available when WYFF reached out to them for a comment.
Are you shitting me? This is exactly the sort of anti-atheist sentiment the Supreme Court ruling was designed to prevent.
And to Councilman Ballard, who says the decision is up to the others, that’s just not true:
Each of the 12 council members are assigned a month where they invite members of the community to lead the invocation.
This is a lawsuit waiting to happen, all because these council members are more interested in pushing religion than following the law. What else do you expect from a county whose stated values include “Spiritual growth in a family environment”?
Plenty of atheist invocations have been delivered and the world is still spinning.
Let’s see how quickly they swallow their words when they get a letter from attorneys.
Until that happens, you can email the members and let them know why atheists have every right to deliver invocations.