Wednesday, June 2, 2010

City Council: Atheist Voices

In May of this year, Mayor William Knight of Greensboro, NC made a huge step in isolating his citizens, breaching our rights, and stepping on the constitution. Mayor Knight changed the moment of silence that previously took place before City Council meetings with an invocation. Prayer by the mayor at public city council meetings? Someone please tell me how that isn't unconstitutional?

Knight commented that  “I think this adds a very distinctly America quality and a very necessary element,” he said. “We all believe in something. This is an opportunity to exercise that without infringing on the government-religion prohibition.”

Excuse me? We all believe in something? Not true Mr. Mayor. 15% of Americans identify with no religion- that's a larger minority than Jews(2.2%), Muslims(0.5%), or even Blacks (12.8%). While I'm sure the Mayor would never hear of calling these groups un-American or creating any law which specifically left these groups out or offended them, apparently he has no problem trampling on the rights of people who don't pray, be they atheist or not. I'm sorry, Mr. Mayor, but as Phillip Drum from the UNCG atheists, agnostics, and skeptics pointed out "You, Mr. Mayor, have an obligation to the great citizens of this city, an obligation to ensure no one is discriminated against, an obligation to conduct inclusive city council meetings, regardless of the citizen's faith or lack thereof."

Councilman Robbie Perkins said it best when he asked, “Why do we want to do this? Are we returning to the 1950s?” Indeed, this is a step back in the progression of a government which respects all of it's citizens.

The UNCG Atheists as well as The Greensboro Atheist Organziation have taken a position of speaking at every council meeting until this decision is overturned. Last night I spoke, waiting over four hours to do so through budget talks, patiently waiting my turn. Some of the other members of my group present noted some scowls on the faces of people in the audience and the council members themselves seemed bored or annoyed as if the mere fact that we dared voice opinions as atheists were a vile thing- and indeed that may be there view, or at least the view of Mayor Knight.


Good Evening. My name is Heather Spealman and I live at 3029 Pisgah Place, apartment E. I am here representing over 140 members of the Greensboro Atheist Organization. As we all know, recently Mayor Knight decided that an invocation would take place at city council meetings. He implied that those of us who do not pray, both atheists and non atheists, are somehow less American than those who do. This is an insult to us all. The ability to believe or not believe as you wish and to be treated equally and be represented as such is American. Following the United States Constitution and adhering to the principles of separation of church and state, a phrase coined by Thomas Jefferson himself, is American. 15% of Americans choose to identify with no religion. Atheism is one of the fastest growing minorities in the US. Out of almost 230 million adults, that means 34 1/2 million are non religious and yet Mayor Knight stresses the need to be inclusive while leaving behind so many people.

Mayor Knight acted with the best of intention with his addition of an invocation at these meetings and the best of intentions deserves the scrutiny of every well meaning citizen. Neither can his choice be inclusive of the people of Greensboro nor withstand the history of American towns, both in and out of this state. We urge that all the people of Greensboro be included as they have always been. We are not here seeking the abolition of religion or prayer or seeking to infringe upon anyone's right to pray, we are simply seeking equality.

Mayor Knight seemed to be paying little attention, if any at all. We will be there, however, at every meeting and we will get this changed.

Please check out UNCG Atheists's speeches on their youtube page.

Quotes from the council members from News Record.

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  1. H...that was really awesome. I hope I can get a Tuesday off of work so that I can come down & support the group. :)

  2. Heather you did a great job! Kudos to you!