Huntsville, a historically Christian city in Alabama, with a population of 180,105, has gone Wiccan.
On November 6, 2014, the City Council of Huntsville, Alabama, had a warlock — a Wiccan priest named Blake Kirk — give the invocation at the start of its public meeting.
Brian Fraga reports for Aleteia that Kirk approached the podium to offer this prayer:
“O gentle goddess and loving god, we thank you for the beauties and the wonders of the day that you have given to us, and for the opportunity we have this evening to assemble here and work together to make Huntsville a better city for all its residents.”
The Huntsville City Council originally had asked warlock Kirk to give an invocation earlier in the summer, but rescinded the invitation after City Call received phone calls from alarmed citizens. Then, the city council changed course and re-invited the warlock because to exclude him would be “discriminatory.”
Although Huntsville, Alabama, historically has been a majority Christian town, like the rest of America, Huntsville residents are becoming less Christian. Recent surveys show that 25% of its residents adhere to non-Christian faiths, including paganism, or no religion.
Beginning in 2012, the the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) threatend to sue Huntsville if its City Council continued to have invocations that were predominantly given by Christian clergy. FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel said the U.S. Supreme Court has authorized public prayer at government meetings as long as they are open to members of all faiths — “That means they can’t deny atheists the right to come give a message, or satanists. They can’t deny a Wiccan to come give a prayer. Those are important things to us.”
So the Huntsville City Council, in order to ward off accusations of discrimination, asked the local Interfaith Mission Service (IMS) to assemble a rotating schedule of invocation speakers that include Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, even pagans and atheists.
Since when is atheism a religion?
Jeannie Robison, an Episcopal deacon and executive minister of the IMS, said the Huntsville City Council “asked IMS because we are a cooperative of congregations and individuals, and we keep tabs on the community’s religious landscape.”
See also “U.S. Episcopal Church is vicious toward its orthodox believers” and “What those Muslims were chanting at Washington National Cathedral” on America’s premier Episcopal church inviting Muslims to desecrate the Washington National Cathedral.
On Sept. 25, Kelly McCauley, a Huntsville resident and atheist who serves as a board member of the North Alabama Freethought Association, opened the Huntsville City Council’s meeting – the first atheist-led invocation at a government meeting in Alabama. McCauley quoted Thomas Jefferson and highlighted the virtues of wisdom, courage, justice and moderation. Despite his high-minded words, McCauley prefers that public prayers and invocations be done away with altogether: “My belief is that it doesn’t do any good. It doesn’t actually improve anything. And it does actually introduce a sense of divisiveness in the community.”
Seidel echoed McCauley’s position: “We think prayers are entirely unnecessary and divisive at city council chambers. There is absolutely no need for government to be engaging in these prayers.”
In recent months, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has called upon congressional leaders to withdraw their invitation to Pope Francis to address Congress when the Pope visits the United States in 2015. The foundation has also asked two mayors to cancel public plans to welcome the Pontiff, and has requested that congressional leaders hold public hearings into severing the United States’ ambassadorial ties with the Holy See.
Seidel actually mis-cited the U.S. Supreme Court. The court’s decisions on prayer at public government meetings did not impose mandatory diversity schemes where municipalities have to abide by quotas of Christian and non-Christian prayers as the Huntsville City Council is doing.
Brett Harvey, an attorney with the Christian public interest law firm Alliance Defending Freedom, explains: “The government identifies a neutral selection process, and the chips then fall where they fall. If you live in a community dominated by a particular religious perspective, the fact that most prayers would be consistent with that perspective doesn’t indicate that the town is favoring one over anybody else. It just reflects the demographics of the community.”
Harvey was a member of the legal team that defended the town of Greece, N.Y., against a lawsuit from two women who objected to the town’s practice of beginning legislative sessions with Christian prayers. The case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled 5-4 in May 2014 that the public prayers did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Justice Anthony Kennedy said the prayers did not coerce participation by nonadherents, “By inviting ministers to serve as chaplains for the month, and welcoming them to the front of the room alongside civic leaders, the town is acknowledging the central place that religion, and religious institutions, hold in the lives of those present.”
Harvey also points to the fact that the courts have recognized the centuries-long tradition in the United States of invoking God at public government meetings. Congress has had a chaplain open its legislative sessions for more than 230 years. God is also invoked when the Supreme Court is called to order.
“It’s part of the tradition because it’s proven to be a benefit for public leaders to humble themselves and ask for divine guidance because they recognize that they may not have all the answers themselves,” said Harvey, who accused groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and the American Civil Liberties Union of waging a campaign to silence public prayers. “If they can’t do that, then they want to impose some sort of obligation to censor public prayer,” Harvey said, adding that the Supreme Court’s rulings prohibit government leaders from censoring prayers or forcing people to give invocations from a perspective apart from their own religious understanding. “So the demands that prayers be purged of any sort of Christian content, or the argument that the government has an obligation to open up meetings to allow anyone and everyone the opportunity to take over the microphone, is simply not true. The Constitution nowhere requires that in any context.”
John Buhler, the director of Mission Huntsville, a collaboration of local evangelical churches, said that whether people feel included or not can be a consideration when choosing who will give the invocation. He argued that the issue is not a constitutional matter in that that the Constitution does not require government bodies to seek out all possible religious perspectives for invocations. “If the Council believes it would be best to invite the wisdom, help and blessing of God, it has the right to include an invocation to whomever or whatever the Council believes can provide such. So for me the bigger issue here, and across the land, is whether what has led to this is really the Council’s choice, or if they have been forced to do this by some who say this is what’s required to be constitutional, which is absolutely not the case,” Buhler said.
Here’s contact info for the Huntsville City Council:
308 Fountain Circle
Huntsville, Alabama 35801
So when will the Huntsville City Council invite a satanist to give the invocation? Isn’t satanism a religion too?