The Huntsville City Council meeting on Thursday, Sept. 25, will look like any other city council meeting—except for one big difference. Kelly McCauley, an atheist and board member of the North Alabama Freethought Association, will be giving the invocation.
“This will mark the first occasion, to our knowledge, that an atheist has offered the invocation at a public meeting in Huntsville”, Charles Miller, Regional Director of American Atheists, told WSFA 12 News.
Controversy surrounding the opening invocation is nothing new to the Huntsville City Council. In 2012, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national organization that promotes the separation of church and state, threatened to sue the city of Huntsville for only using Christians as invocation deliverers. As a compromise, Huntsville City Council President Mark Russell suggested that leaders from various faiths could give the invocation.
But the controversy didn’t end there. Blake Kirk, a Wiccan priest who was scheduled to deliver the invocation on June 26, 2014, was uninvited by the city after citizens raised concerns about his faith. Kirk gave the invocation on Jan. 23, 2014, but the fact that he was a practicing Wiccan was apparently not known at that time. On June 27, 2014, Andrew Seidel, a staff attorney from FFRF sent Huntsville City Attorney Peter Joffrion a letter calling the city’s tradition an “exclusionary practice” and asking that Kirk be invited back.
“If Huntsville wants to continue to host prayers, it cannot discriminate against any person or religion wishing to give a prayer,” Seidel writes. Seidel raised concerns over possible Constitutional violations and requested permission for an atheist FFRF member to give an invocation at a future meeting.
The Huntsville City Council isn’t the only place in the Yellowhammer State where this conversation is happening. In 2013, a representative from an environmentalist group criticized a prayer before a Public Service Commission meeting.
So what do you think? Is praying before public meetings appropriate? What do you think about the first atheist to deliver the invocation in Huntsville?
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