Waterloo, Iowa, City Council
May 2, 2016
FFRF Member Justin Scott, also a member of the Cedar Valley Atheists and Eastern Iowa Atheists, delivered the first secular invocation in Waterloo, Iowa, City Council history. He also accepted the mayor's issuance of a "Day of Reason" proclamation for May 5, 2016, for the city. See page 19.
Thank you, mayor and council members, for this opportunity to hopefully provide an inspirational start to your meeting tonight and do so from a minority point of view. My name is Justin Scott. I am a proud atheist here in Waterloo and I stand before you all humbly representing the Cedar Valley Atheists, the Eastern Iowa Atheists and the growing and vibrant secular community across Waterloo and Iowa.
The secular community is made up of atheists, agnostics, humanists, secularists and skeptics predicated on community without the aid of the supernatural. It is also committed to defending and strengthening the separation of church and state while promoting positive non-theism and critical thinking. Regardless of the label they identify with, these are happy, compassionate and productive members of our society and I am proud to be representing them in this chamber tonight.
Tonight, as our elected officials work to make the best decisions for the city of Waterloo and the residents who call it home, instead of closing our eyes and bowing our heads in prayer, let us instead keep focused on the serious issues that our city government faces. And as our elected officials take on these issues in their thankless positions, let us all embrace the indelible words of some of the most influential freethinkers, past and present, starting with one of the leading astronomers of our time, Dr. Carl Sagan.
And I quote: Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. End quote.
Regardless of the issues that get deliberated by this body tonight and in the future, regardless of the accomplishments and shortcomings of this chamber, it's with the sentiment of Dr. Sagan's comment that this chamber should conduct its business tonight and going forward. Each of us in here and across this city is precious; no citizen is more important than any other.
Let this chamber keep in mind that with every yay or nay vote, precious lives of Waterloo citizens will be affected, hopefully for better, but some for worse. While coming to their decisions, this chamber should rely solely on reason, observation and experience, or what Robert Ingersoll, "The Great Agnostic" of the mid-1800s, referred to as the "holy trinity of science."
Let this chamber deliberate with the understanding that not everyone in the room shares the same values, the same life experiences or same religious beliefs. These differences can help to enrich these governmental tasks but only when they aren't used to limit or censor free speech, denigrate or treat certain groups as second-class citizens or promote religious belief over nonbelief or one religious belief over all the others.
Let this chamber keep in mind that, in every circumstance, the minority viewpoint is just as valuable as the majority one. The rights and dignity of all Waterloo citizens should be respected regardless of their race, gender identity, sexuality, religious belief or lack thereof, for the future and well-being of our great city is enriched only when its diversity is embraced and equality for all is held as a guiding principle. With this said, I appeal to this chamber to follow one of the many tenets of humanism that reads, "We are concerned with securing justice and fairness in society and with eliminating discrimination and intolerance."
Let this chamber never forget that even though their beliefs often inspire their decisions, many decisions have real-world implications so they should never be made in haste. Every decision made in this chamber should be the product of informed reason, inquiry and skepticism. As the 18th-century philosopher David Hume reminds us, "Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them."
Just as you've welcomed an atheist to take part in this invocation process for the first time, you are encouraged to build on tonight to make your government even more open and accessible to more people, which will help make it as inclusive as possible. Open your arms to other Waterloo citizens living in the shadows of a certain minority group; together we truly will achieve more and the experience will be much more rewarding.
In closing, I'd like to leave you with a thought from Thomas Paine, Founding Father of the United States and English-American political activist: "The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion."