Freethought Today · August 2017

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Iowa city changes prayer process

The Eastern Iowa Atheists successfully lobbied the mayor and City Council of Waverly, Iowa, to change its unconstitutional prayer practice before City Council meetings.

"Mayor Charles Infelt announced at a council meeting on June 5 that he and the council had developed a policy for prayers/invocations that would open the practice up to more voices and worldviews instead of just his," writes Justin Scott, Eastern Iowa Atheists' founder and director.

It started on April 3, when Scott approached the mayor and council at their regular council meeting to request a more inclusive invocation process. The mayor responded that "there is no representation beyond the theistic approach" and that atheists at City Council meetings are expected to "just say (their) own quiet little reflection."

That interaction began a series of discussions at council meetings through April and May, where the mayor clarified his position on atheist (and other) invocations, stating that he would be open to them taking place in a future meeting, but offering no further details about whether that would happen.

Two months later at the council meeting, a college student from Iran shared a traditional Muslim invocation, marking just the fifth time since 2014 that Infelt hasn't delivered the prayer or invocation to start a meeting.

"Waverly's diversity and long treasured value of inclusivity shall be reflected in this organizing process. I hope we enjoyed and feel anchored by today's invocation," Infelt said.

"The Eastern Iowa Atheists applaud the mayor and council for not only drafting this policy for prayers and invocations — providing some much needed clarity to the process — but also for recognizing the importance of having a prayer/invocation process that is open to every voice and worldview," Scott said. "In a perfect world, prayers and other religious ceremonies would have no part in our secular government, but since the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled them to be legal, we want to ensure the most inclusive and constitutionally sound process is offered by cities that choose to include this practice so that atheists have an opportunity to take part in the process and have their voices heard."

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