Wilkes-Barre City Council prayer objection noted in The Times Leader

"Man Objects To Prayers Before City Council Meetings" c/o WNEP TV-16
“Man Objects To Prayers Before City Council Meetings” c/o WNEP TV-16

Jerry Lynott — writer for The Times Leader — recently authored an article mentioning my address to Wilkes-Barre City Council objecting to government-led prayer during council meetings. Read more concerning my objection to council prayer in this extensive piece, find more information in the ‘council prayer‘ category on this website, and watch my address to council:

Lynott, in his article, also commenting on other items addressed at the Wilkes-Barre City Council meeting, wrote,

More police would help, too, said James Gallagher of Poplar Street. He was told there were only four officers on duty early Sunday morning when a lawnmower was stolen from Nicholson Street, he said. He suggested the city take some of the $650,000 budgeted for street cleaning and put it toward hiring more police.

Gallagher prefaced his remarks by telling council, “God bless you guys” in response to Justin Vacula’s objection to beginning each council meeting with a prayer.

Vacula, an Exeter resident, self-described atheist and member of the NEPA Freethought Society, had paid for a permit to hang a banner that read “Nothing Fails Like Prayer” on Public Square.

“I urge council to cease prayer at future meetings,” Vacula said.

Council Chairman Bill Barrett said council will look into Vacula’s concern and research the issue of the opening prayer.

Again, we see the odd “self-described” adjective attached to “atheist.” I am not sure why reporters use this term and am increasingly perplexed because I hardly, if ever, see phrases like “self-described Christian” or “self-described Jew” in media reporting. The article also, although it correctly mentions and spells the NEPA Freethought Society, says I am a member of the organization although I am the group’s co-organizer and spokesperson. Regardless, it is nice to see a mention in local media and attention being drawn to the issue of government-led prayer at council meetings.

This article, much different from the article on WNEP-TV 16, does not focus on my objection to prayer, but the comment section is filled with — shall we say — objections to my objection and some very welcome support from fellow secularists. Following are some comments following the article:

ScreenHunter_291 Jun. 18 00.18

“Opening meeting and allowing the council to say a prayer is just common decency something that’s lacking in the new breed of atheist. They choose not to believe in god and they have an agenda to make it politically incorrect to mention god or to practice religion in public in any way.”

ScreenHunter_291 Jun. 18 00.19

“Why don’t you join the military and help support that right of freedom of speech even though it is garbage coming out of your wise A&* mouth.”

ScreenHunter_291 Jun. 18 00.20

 

“As you do not want christian beliefs thrust upon you, I might suggest that you enter council meetings 5 minutes after the scheduled start time. This will prohibit you from being offended.”

 

ScreenHunter_291 Jun. 18 00.21

 

“This Dracula guy gives me the creeps.Wish he would find someplace else to spew his evil words.”

 

ScreenHunter_292 Jun. 18 00.21

 

“The problem with vacula is, that he is trying to violate the rights of others, by saying his rights are being violated”

 

ScreenHunter_292 Jun. 18 00.22

 

“My earlier point was the fact that, if he feels infringed upon for someone else showing their faith. Why should his beliefs restrict what others may do?”

 

ScreenHunter_293 Jun. 18 00.22

 

“He is a showboat, perhaps even a sociopath, simply looking for attention.”

 

ScreenHunter_293 Jun. 18 00.23

 

“In GOD we Trust and So help you God, this nation was founded on christian believes. You are confused about the constitution and bill of rights.”

More of the same, unfortunately, from many presumably Christian commenters: I want to ban speech, I am objecting because I am offended, my viewpoint is not valid because I have not served in the military, I should stand in the hallway if I don’t like prayer, I am evil, I am violating others’ rights, I am a sociopath, and America is founded upon Christian belief.

I must say, though, that the climate — at least what I have seen — for atheists in America is getting better. Many theists, in recent years, have come to me not with hatred, but rather with support and agreement on church/state separation issues. The level of nastiness is much lesser than what I experienced in 2009. I have also witnessed hospitality from local pastors who were interested in conversation [not conversion] — including one who invited me to lunch (and another with whom I will have coffee with this Wednesday) — and I had experienced much civility from theists at a National Day of Prayer event I protested earlier this year.

Original photo which, modified to newspaper publication, appeared in the May 2013 edition of Freethought Today
Original photo which, modified to newspaper publication, appeared in the May 2013 edition of Freethought Today

Respect, genuineness, kindness, and civility seem to go a long way. When atheist and church/state activists, it seems, treat others with respect, respect is often reciprocated. Nastiness will always exist, especially on the internet, but I believe it can be diminished when a person bearing a message set a high standard for discourse and civility. If I were, for instance, to go around calling theists ‘stupid,’ ‘dumb,’ and was attacking persons rather than discussing ideas — like why I believe prayer is inappropriate — I would likely receive a very negative response and get less support from local theists and fellow atheists. No matter the approach, though, not everyone will be pleased and, again, nastiness will always exist.

As always, feel free to leave your comments below and consider commenting on The Times Leader article which, at time of this piece’s publishing, has 141 comments.