This is excerpted from FFRF Lifetime Member Larry Rhodes’ testimony July 23 before the Knox County Commission in Knoxville, Tenn., before it voted to keep prayer at its meetings. The vote was taken after FFRF complained about the practice. FFRF commends Larry for coming forward in person as a constituent to try to educate the commissioners. A majority of speakers were in favor of discountinuing prayer, including three ministers.
By Larry Rhodes
I am a citizen of Knoxville and have been for 40 years. I graduated from the University of Tennessee. I’m a Vietnam veteran. I’ve worked here, owned homes here and, for 17 years, ran my own business here.
I was born into a Southern Baptist home and raised Southern Baptist. Even though my religious views have changed over time, I’m still a citizen. As such, I expect my government officials to represent me as a citizen, without injecting individual, personal religious views into the policies that govern my life.
The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, which you all swore to uphold, forbids the making of any laws which represent an establishment of religion. Therefore, you should be aware that you are about to vote on an unconstitutional action.
Knox County was probably, at one time, 100% Christian (Baptist). It is no longer that. It, and indeed America as a whole, is now a community made up of Baptists, Catholics, Methodists and Mormons, as well as Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and nonbelievers.
Indeed, the category called “Other” in Knox County makes up nearly 30% of the population, all of whom are taxpaying citizens. And as citizens, we have a right to be represented equally under the law.
This board today votes on a policy of having religious prayer start its meetings. It would be a specific prayer to a specific god of a specific religion. Even though you may deem it a “generic prayer,” it will still leave out all the humanist, secularist, atheist and agnostic citizens of this area, a segment of the population that, like it or not, is growing every day. You will be sending a message to those citizens that “You are not real citizens. You’re allowed to live here and pay taxes, but real citizens are those who share the religious beliefs of us, the majority.”
I am not here to try to persuade you to not practice your religion. Please, do practice your religion, by all means, in your churches, in your homes, in the closet or in the open air and on every street corner of America if you like. But not in the halls of government, and not with the power of government.
You may be thinking that you must follow your religious faith and do as it dictates. However, faith has not been proven to be a good path to truth. If it were, there would not be thousands of different religions on the planet, all claiming to be following faith.
Remember that the mother in Jonestown who gave her child poisoned Kool-Aid was also following her faith. Those misguided Muslims who flew planes into the buildings in New York and Washington, D.C., were also following their faith. The members of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, when arming themselves and fighting the federal government, were also following their faith.
Please follow your conscience, but leave religious faith at the door. Do not practice your religion for me in the halls of government.
It is much better, by far, to follow the U.S. Constitution, keep your religion out of government and work to keep all other religions out of government as well, ensuring true religious freedom in America.