Atheists in Chico, California are complaining that the mayor refuses to allow them to offer an opening invocation at city council meetings, KRCR reports.
The president of the Butte County Coalition of Reason, George Gold, said that he's repeatedly asked Mayor Scott Bruendl if a member of his atheist organization could offer an invocation before a city council meeting.
"Non-believers make up 20 percent of the population; that's 16,000 people in the City of Chico," he told KRCR. "We're a part of this community."
"We need to be all-inclusive," he added. "We want to tell people that what's important is justice, logic and reason."
In recent months, a number of communities have revoked invitations to open city councils by members of groups that are outside of the religious mainstream. In Alabama, the Huntsville City Council withdrew an invitation to have Blake Kirk give an opening prayer after it learned he was "a Priest of the Oak, Ash and Thorn tradition of Wicca."
Other communities have simply continued to allow explicitly Christian prayers to grace the opening of their city council sessions. Pismo Beach, California, for example, had the official city chaplain open meetings with homilies about "the power of prayer."
In Virginia, Roanoke County Supervisor Al Bedrosian declared that he would not allow a non-Christian or atheist to deliver an opening invocation, because doing so would "infringe on my right, because I don’t believe that."
Chico Mayor Scott Gruendl appears to be attempting to skirt controversy simply by not acknowledging the Butte County Coalition of Reason's request. Gold and an attorney from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based advocacy group, have copies of the letters sent both to current Mayor Gruendl and his predecessor, Mary Goloff, none of which have received a reply.