The Huntsville, Ala., City Council invited a Wiccan to deliver its opening invocation last week. And guess what? The city is still standing.
That’s right – no tornadoes, earthquakes, meteors or plagues of locusts have descended upon the community. Everybody got through it.
The Wiccan invocation in Huntsville is more fallout from the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Town of Greece v. Galloway. As you may recall, that case (sponsored by Americans United) resulted in a disappointing 5-4 decision allowing local governments to open their meetings with sectarian prayers as a way of solemnizing the occasion.
The high court implied that communities should make at least some effort to include diversity in their invocations. Now, let’s be clear: This was not the result Americans United wanted. We wanted a ruling banning government-sponsored majoritarian prayer at these meetings.
But it didn’t go that way, so we’re working to make the best of it. Our Operation Inclusion encourages people from a variety of religious and philosophical perspectives to offer invocations before government meetings. This will help the American people see the range of religious and non-religious thought that is out there.
The Wiccan who offered the invocation in Huntsville, Blake Kirk, was able to do so because he got help from Americans United. As the news site AL.com noted, “Kirk was originally invited to give the invocation at a City Council meeting in late June. But when his name and affiliation – priest of the Oak, Ash and Thorn tradition of Wicca – appeared on the meeting agenda, alarmed citizens called and e-mailed City Hall. The city rescinded Kirk's invitation; the June 26 meeting began instead with a moment of silence.”
That’s when Americans United stepped in. Our attorneys wrote to the council and asked them to reconsider.
“If the City Council wishes to start its meetings with prayers, it must open the prayer opportunity to people of any and all religious beliefs – including Wiccans – and it may not impose unique burdens or conditions on speakers of particular beliefs, whether in response to community outrage or otherwise,” AU’s attorneys wrote.
The Council was quick to respond. Kirk was invited back and put on the calendar. He addressed his invocation to “O gentle Goddess and loving God,” and said in part, “[W]e ask that You visit upon these chambers a spirit of peace and comity, so that all who need to speak before the council this evening may do so in an atmosphere of courtesy and respect, without needless anger or hostility. These things we ask of You as children would of their loving parents, trusting that You will give unto us those gifts we truly need.”
It’s a good sentiment. And it went off without a hitch. Let this be a lesson to other communities: Your invocations can indeed represent the diversity of the nation. The sky will not fall.
Even in the Bible Belt.