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Austin Cline

Fallout Over Atheist Invocation

By August 2, 2004

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A couple of days ago I reported on the bigots who walked out before an atheist could deliver an invocation at a Tampa city council meeting. They, according to reports, didn't want to have to listen to someone who didn't share their beliefs. Public reactions have been similar.

The St. Petersburg Times reports:

"You have just lost any chance of getting my vote a second time," one woman wrote [City Council member John] Dingfelder. "I also believe there is good in every soul, but I would not invite a rapist or thief to my home for dinner to prove it." Harvey, the atheist, said people came up to him all day Friday to congratulate him. That wasn't the case for Ed Golly, chairman of Atheists of Florida. Someone left a profane-laced message on his answering machine at home. "You need to be exterminated," the caller said.

So, atheists arenít substantially different from rapists or murderers. If anyone is going to present an invocation, it should be a moral and upstanding Christian ó you know, like the sort of person who told Ed Golly that he should be ďexterminated.Ē Thatís a much more moral person than any atheist.

"I would have walked out too," said Christopher Gould Sr., general manager of a Christian radio station, WTBN AM 570 and 910 FM. "I think there is a constant chipping away at our institutions," he said. "To allow an atheist the opportunity for an invocation lowers the standards of what an invocation is."

Gould is probably right ó but if he is right, he loses. How? Gould is right if the invocation is supposed to be seen as a specifically religious ritual; in that case, though, itís inappropriate for government functions. If, however, the invocation is supposed to be broader and not so religious, then Gould is wrong and an atheist can deliver it. Thatís what makes this so interesting: those who object to an atheist delivering an invocation can only use arguments that serve to undermine having invocations at all.

The Times quotes similar reactions:

"I don't know if anyone on your council professes to be a Christian or even believe in God, but if you did not protest this decision or walk out, you will stand before God one day and answer for blaspheming his name."
"I am horrified that the City Council of Tampa would allow an atheist to open a meeting. This nation was founded by God. This isn't about diversity. It's about Satan gaining another foothold."
"In no other time more than today do we need our higher power's guidance to use wisdom in connection with all of our day-to-day activities. We do not need to bow down to those who are so opposed to our collective beliefs and kowtow to assuage those few who would disrupt."
"I applaud you (Kevin White) for taking a stand yesterday morning. I speak to you not as a constituent, but as an employee for the city of Tampa. It could be difficult to serve a "boss' without faith or vision."

There were also some criticism of the Christian bigots:

"Imagine a man saying, "I just can't sit here and listen to a woman.' Would Mary Alvarez support it? Imagine a white man saying, "We have never had people of an African-American group represent Americans, and I don't think it is appropriate in this setting.' Would Mary Alvarez be saying he was "brave?' "
"The behavior of White, Alvarez and Ferlita is typical of hateful Christians. What they can't understand, they fear. Why are these people on the City Council? And what's up with White's statement (that) listening to an atheist even one time could unleash a "snowball effect' on government? He compared it to having unprotected sex. Very twisted thinking. I'm not even sure you could call that thinking."

For a long time, invocations have been very narrow in the theological perspectives represented. That is changing and it will continue to change ó which means that secular perspectives will have to be included as well. That canít be stopped, though theocrats and religious bigots will continue to try.

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Comments
Kenton(1)

Apparently if we atheists simply pretend to know some god as the religious people do then we’re acceptable. I refuse.

February 16, 2008 at 5:12 pm
George(2)

Dingfelder was reelected. Got a problem with it? I don’t. And neither do the good people of Tampa.

November 30, 2008 at 9:06 pm

Dingfelder was reelected. Got a problem with it?

Yes.

I donít. And neither do the good people of Tampa.

Bigots wouldn’t.

November 30, 2008 at 9:11 pm
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