Iowa atheist activist Justin Scott delivered his controversial-to-some invocation at last night’s meeting of the Oskaloosa City Council and it was, as expected, perfectly reasonable and inspiring.
You can hear it at the 1:10 mark in the video below.
Good evening. On behalf of the Eastern Iowa Atheists and the rising number of atheists and other non-religious citizens across Oskaloosa and Iowa, thank you for this opportunity.
It is an honor to be delivering the first ever inclusive invocation at an Oskaloosa City Council meeting, honoring both the constitution of Iowa and the United States.
Tonight’s invocation is dedicated to Iona Loonie and to anybody else across Eastern Iowa or Iowa that have ever stood up for equality in their communities but have been told to look the other way or move out.
First, for everybody to remain as comfortable as you’d like, stay standing or remain seated. Whatever you feel comfortable with. I’d like to build on the idea of Councillor Ver Steeg by encouraging all of you to face any direction you choose. Bow your heads or keep your chin up. And feel free to either keep your eyes open or shut. Whichever you wish, as you will not offend me however you choose to enjoy my invocation.
Regardless of what you choose, I appreciate your presence in this chamber tonight.
Let us begin.
Tonight, as many of you have figured out, I will not be invoking a Higher Power. Instead, I will be pointing out some powers all of us have thanks to the wonder of human evolution, to do the most good for the most number of people right here in beautiful Oskaloosa.
I encourage everyone to harness these powers in every discussion invoked tonight.
First, the power to empathize with those that are different from you; that have taken a different path than you, that have experienced and continue to experience different struggles than yours. The human power to embrace diversity in your community, seeing it not as a threat but as an opportunity to learn and grow as neighbors. The human power to strive for inclusion in your city government. It is here to work for all citizens but only if you demand more from it. The human power to demand justice within your city, as we are all, in one way or another, all minorities.
When it comes to making the right decisions for the city of Oskaloosa, decisions that ensure that the rights and freedoms of all citizens are upheld and protected, this chamber must demand more than appeals to the supernatural, but rather rely only on taking an evidence-based approach to all decisions.
Lastly, this chamber should not operate as merely a grouping of individuals looking out for themselves, but rather relying on one another, celebrating all that makes us different and yet, at the same time, so much the same. The human power of attempting to do the most good for the most number of people is the best power that any of us have, always using our reason and critical thinking skills to do so.
So in closing, it is my pleasure to leave with you the lasting words of Robert Ingersoll, one of the greatest orators our country has ever produced: “Happiness is the only good. The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here. The way to be happy is make others so.”
There’s nothing in there that should have offended anyone. Justin went out of his way to let people know they could stand up, sit down, look at him, or turn their backs to him. It didn’t matter. He wasn’t going to be bothered by it.
The words were wonderful, too, talking about the power of humanity and our shared ability to do good. Yet only about half the council members appeared to stand out of respect. Oh well.
By the way, a handful of people made public comments in support of Justin, and he posted about one of them afterwards:
That’s fantastic. I wish more residents would defend atheists like that in these situations. There’s no reason they shouldn’t.
***Update***: Justin tells me he received a death threat before the invocation:
The editor of the [local] paper made me aware that there had been a death threat made against me on social media, that he had seen the actual threat and he made local law enforcement aware of it.
A police officer escorted him out of the building when the meeting was over. Just to be safe.
He also took video of the public comments section of the meeting when Christians spoke out against him for a variety of reasons.
***Update 2***: This is interesting. Councillor Aaron Ver Steeg, who whined on Facebook about how Justin was going to speak, is caught on a hot mic a couple of times…
At 9:09, he leans over when an ally of Justin’s approaches the mic for a public comment and says, “Here goes the atheist.”
At 13:56, after another commenter speaks about the invocations, Ver Steeg says, “That should be enough.”
At 21:38, another council member complains (out loud) that the mayor should have come to them before inviting Justin… which is absurd. But more importantly, Ver Steeg says nothing when given the opportunity. I guess muttering under his breath is enough.