Discrimination in Social Services

In A Fla. Town, Commissioners Walked Out Rather Than Listen To A Secular Invocation

  Rob Boston

Two days ago, I blogged about a situation in Lakes Wales, Fla., where an atheist was scheduled to deliver an invocation before a meeting of the city commission. Two members of the commission, Al Goldstein and Curtis Gibson, were so offended by that they threatened to turn their backs or walk out.

Here’s an update: Sarah Ray of the Atheist Community of Polk County was able to offer the invocation Tuesday night – and Goldstein and Gibson did indeed walk out.

Blogger Hemant Mehta obtained the text of Ray’s remarks. I was struck by this passage: “We, the people, far more alike than different, bring our many unique talents and skills together for the good of all. Tonight I call for peace and understanding. Yes, I’m an atheist. I’m white. I’m a parent. I’m originally from Illinois. I’m a transgender woman. We are all different in many ways. If we have prejudged each other already upon these differences, I fear we have lost before we ever began. Instead, may we seek out that which we have in common, and recognize that much of what makes us different separately, makes us stronger together.”

It’s a good message. Goldstein and Gibson would have benefitted from hearing it.

Whenever something like this happens, I can’t help but wonder what sort of brouhaha would have erupted if Goldstein and Gibson had walked out on a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, etc. That story would have probably gone viral, and the two men would be widely condemned for their intolerant – and, frankly, immature – behavior. It shouldn’t make a difference that Ray is an atheist. Government officials have a duty to represent and respect all of their constituents, whether they agree with them on matters of religion or not.

The good news is that, in the long run, the feeble protest of Goldstein and Gibson will be meaningless. Religious diversity in America continues to grow, and that includes more and more people openly declaring that their religion is “none.” These folks are not content to stay silent. As law professor Jay Wexler noted in his 2019 book Our Non-Christian Nation: How Atheists, Satanists, Pagans, and Others Are Demanding Their Rightful Place in Public Life, skeptics of organized religion (and others) are demanding the same rights and privileges that America’s Christian majority has long taken for granted – and that includes the right to offer some thoughts before a meeting of a government body.

The United States was never intended to be an officially “Christian nation,” and its future shows just how untenable that notion has become. No amount of back turning or storming off in a huff will change that.

P.S. Your support of Americans United helps us ensure that government does not discriminate against people based on what they believe – or don’t believe – about faith.  


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