Bob Shortz — at the July 16, 2013 Wilkes-Barre City Council meeting — addressed council objecting to my objection to government-led prayer at council meetings.
Shortz encouraged council to continue its tradition of government-led prayer and casts the issue — rather than an issue of separation of church and state — as an issue of free speech and a matter of me being offended by prayer. Watch the video of his remarks below and read my response to some of his points.
‘The spaghetti monster does not have a reputation for answering prayers.’
During my remarks at the June 2013 council meeting, I asked council why they pray to “Almighty God in Heaven’ and not Amon-Ra, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or other deities. I also asked council to explain why they offer prayers. I received no direct response to these questions. Since when does the god of council’s choosing answer prayers? Can this be demonstrated? If council is expecting a deific intervention — an impartation of divine guidance and wisdom — it is clear that government-led prayer at council meetings is not ‘just a tradition’ as council chair Barrett claims, but rather is a religious ritual.
‘I do not find mention of Almighty God to be a prayer to a Judeo-Christian deity.’
It is clearly not a prayer to the Flying Spaghetti Monster as Shortz acknowledges. Regardless of the deity petitioned, government-led prayer should be absent from council meetings. If prayers were offered to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I would — perhaps to the chagrin of worshippers of His Noodly Appendages — similarly protest prayer. Council members, although they are “people of faith” as Mayor Thomas Leighton mentioned, should leave their religious rituals out of government meetings and pray on their own time.
‘I do not think Mr. Vacula is really concerned about prayers at meetings. He’s opposed to religion in general.’
I am opposed to religion in general, but this has no bearing on my objection to prayer at council meetings. I am asking government officials to remove government-led prayers from council meetings because I want to see religion separate from politics and government activities. If Islamic prayers, for example, were offered at meetings, it would be silly to respond to Christian objections saying, “This is not really about prayers because you’re opposed to Islam in general.” Although I am an atheist [and opposed to religion in general], not all who object to prayer at council meetings are atheists or opposed to religion in general. I just happen to be the objector at this time. Future meetings may include religious individuals who have the courage to openly dissent.
‘He wants us to be sensitive to his feelings, but he is offensive to religious people with his “Nothing Fails Like Prayer” banner which was placed on Public Square.’
My opposition to government-led prayer is not an issue of me being offended or asking others to be sensitive to my feelings. I rarely, if ever, would say that I am offended or demand others modify their behavior to suit my feelings while claiming offense. I simply want government-led prayer removed from council meetings because religious rituals ought to be separate from government functions. Council members should not be offering prayers during public meetings.
‘This is a free speech issue.’
When government officials utter prayers and statements at council meetings, the speech in question is that of government, not individual citizens. Government officials, on their own time, may offer prayers or participate in religious services, but they ought not intertwine themselves at public meetings.
‘He is not a resident of Wilkes-Barre.’
Whether or not I am a resident of Wilkes-Barre makes no difference. Consider the merits of my arguments and understand the dubious legality of government prayer. Shall we object to members of the FBI — who do not live in Wilkes-Barre — stating activities in Wilkes-Barre are unethical or illegal simply because they aren’t residents of the city? Arguments ought to stand on their own merits regardless of who is putting them forth. Besides, I work in Wilkes-Barre and am the spokesperson for the NEPA Freethought Society – an organization with meetings and members in Wilkes-Barre. Regardless, future meetings will include Wilkes-Barre residents objecting to prayer at council meetings.
As always, feel free to comment below.
More information about government-led prayer at Wilkes-Barre City Council meetings can be found within the category of ‘council prayer‘ on this website.