Back in May, Sarah Ray, the co-founder and director of the Atheist Community of Polk County (in Florida), gave an invocation in front of the Board of Commissioners that urged officials to make decisions which “root our policymaking process in these values that are relevant to all Polk County residents.”
Very sensible advice. Not controversial at all.
This Tuesday, Ray is schedule to give a speech at a meeting of the Lake Wales City Commission. Her presence at the meeting is already creating a stir among the commissioners, according to the Lake Wales News.
It’s not because of what she plans to say; it’s because of what she might say.
“Who will she be praying to?” asked Commissioner Al Goldstein, who said he plans to set his Bible on the dais and exit the room when Ray speaks.
Commissioner Curtis Gibson said he likely will join the meeting online but may turn his back on Ray, noting “I don’t just let anyone pray over me.”
Goldstein’s question is ignorant because it doesn’t matter what the answer is. Both men have the right to act like petty children by putting a Bible on the dais or turning his back on her, but it’s telling that they’re only doing this because the speaker isn’t Christian. They fully expect speakers to worship their God, oblivious to how non-Christians feel every time we have to hear Jesus believers pray at these meetings.
And make no mistake, Christians are typically the only people who give invocations:
The Lake Wales City Commission in the past has restricted its invocations to city chaplain Dr. James Moyer, or in his absence, the mayor or a commissioner. Moyer did the invocation in 24 of the last 38 meetings.
“I don’t know why all of a sudden the city clerk would decide to change our policy and just open it up to anyone who volunteered,” Gibson said. “Since we’ve basically kept our invocations in-house, I don’t know how we could be accused of discriminating.”
We always have our Christian chaplain give invocations! If not him, then one of the Christian commissioners! Why would anyone have a problem with this?!
He answered his own question.
One official even said he would speak with the city’s attorney about this.
Interim City Manager James Slaton said he would be talking more about the issue to City Attorney Chuck Galloway, but that it appears that a recent federal appeals court ruling against the Brevard County Commission may give the city no choice.
Slaton wants to speak to a lawyer… who will eventually tell him Ray’s invocation is perfectly legal. What’s especially troubling about that whole exchange, though, is that it may provide cover for the whiny commissioners. It allows them to say We don’t WANT an atheist to give an invocation, but the courts are MAKING us! Blame them!
Last night, I asked Ray what she thought about all this.
She told me she was originally planning to deliver the invocation over Zoom — “to lead by example” — but if these commissioners can’t handle her presence, she may well show up in person. If nothing else, it gives her a chance to make eye contact with some of these people while also putting her group front and center. It’s also a better way to build relationships with city leaders. (I don’t think there’s anything selfish about doing this for the sake of visibility. That’s part of why people volunteer to give invocations! To represent a group in front of city officials.)
As for the contents of her invocation, I wouldn’t expect anything divisive. That wasn’t the case before and that’s not likely to change now. It’s obvious that Ray’s words don’t matter to these commissioners anyway; her atheism is more than enough to upset some of them.
(Thanks to Joseph for the link)