For a couple of months now, atheist activist Justin Scott has been encouraging the Waverly City Council in Iowa to adopt a more inclusive invocation policy. It’s not merely a suggestion, either. Mayor Charles D. Infelt was opening meetings with a Christian prayer and no one else had the opportunity to give their own — something that a court would almost certainly find illegal if push came to shove.
In early April, when Justin spoke to the council, Infelt said atheists could “say your own quiet little, whatever, reflection you’d like” and, later, that atheists should “be tolerant of everyone who is” religious.
A week later, Infelt was more iffy about it all, suggesting that atheists might be able to deliver invocations in the future… but he didn’t really apologize for past remarks or take any concrete steps to address the issue.
And a week after that, Justin spoke to the council again, offering his help in drafting an invocation policy that would make everyone happy.
That persistence finally paid off this week, according to a press release from the Eastern Iowa Atheists.
Mayor Charles Infelt announced at last night’s meeting he and the council had developed a policy for prayers/invocations that would open the practice up to more voices and worldviews instead of just his.
For the first time since September 2016, someone other than Mayor Infelt delivered the opening prayer/invocation. A Muslim Wartburg student from Iran shared a traditional Muslim invocation, marking the fifth time since 2014 that Mayor Infelt hasn’t delivered the prayer or invocation to start a council meeting.
“Waverly’s diversity and long treasured value of inclusivity shall be reflected in this organizing process, I hope we enjoyed and feel anchored by today’s invocation,” Mayor Infelt added after the invocation.
”The Eastern Iowa Atheists applaud the mayor and council for not only drafting this policy for prayers and invocations, providing some much needed clarity to the process but also for recognizing the importance of having a prayer/invocation process that is open to every voice and worldview,” said EIA founder and Director Justin Scott, who attended the meeting last night and thanked the mayor and council for this change during the public comment section. “In a perfect world, prayers and other religious ceremonies would have no part in our secular government but since the US Supreme Court has ruled them to be legal, we want to insure the most inclusive and constitutionally sound process is offered by cities that choose to include this practice so that atheists have an opportunity to take in the process and have their voices heard.”
The new policy is short and sweet. Only four sentences long.
1. At the city council’s first meeting of the month sessions shall begin with the Pledge of Allegiance and an invocation/prayer.
2. The mayor shall take the responsibility for organizing people from the community and/or city council membership to participate.
3. Waverly’s diversity and long treasured value of inclusivity shall be reflected in the organizing process.
4. All invocation/prayer requests shall come from, or be initiated by, persons who live in Waverly.
The only concern is that the mayor has already shown himself to be ignorant on these matters. Can he really be trusted to organize these invocations (even if he got it right this week)? And the city council membership should still not be participating since that reeks of government sponsorship of religion.
The real question is whether Satanists, atheists, and other non-Christian groups in Waverly can request to speak and given that opportunity. In other words, who will get rejected under this policy? We don’t have that answer yet.
Still, consider that two months ago, the mayor was completely dismissive of atheists. And now he seems ready to include them in the mix. That’s only because of the tenacity of Justin Scott and his atheist group. The pressure and education works. It might take time, but when they realize you’re not going away, they may just take action in the right direction.
(Large portions of this article were published earlier)