A Texas mayor has denied an atheist the right to give an invocation before a government meeting, sparking a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, CBS local news reports.
Zachary Moore, who represents the humanist group in the city of Keller, was set to speak before the City Council meeting when Mayor Mark Matthews intervened and announced he instead would be giving the prayer, which he started with “gracious heavenly father.”
The move came after the FFRF sent a complaint because while Moore has been allowed in the past to deliver the invocation, the city always had a Christian pastor pray after him.
“I was fine with that too for a while, but it occurred to me that what happened was also a form of discrimination,” Moore told CBS.
FFRF’s letter says the city can’t discriminate against the nonreligious or members of minority religions, and accused it of “diluting” non-Christian messages with a subsequent prayer.
“If the Council insists on continuing to host prayers at public meetings, it cannot discriminate against any person wishing to give a prayer. The nonreligious and members of minority religions must be permitted to deliver invocations on an equal basis. This not only means permitting them to be in the invocation rotation, it also means not making a special show of diluting their message with a subsequent Christian prayer,” the letter, obtained by CBS, reads.
But the local pastor who usually delivers a prayer after Moore’s invocation says the atheist can be prohibited from speaking because he doesn’t believe in any gods.
“You can pray in the name of Jesus, in the name of Allah, or anything else. Any other deity. The Supreme Court guarantees that. That was their decision. But Mr. Moore does not provide a prayer,” Pastor John Salvesen told the station.
Moore argues he has beliefs as well and likes to talk about shared values when he has given the invocation in the past, but as CBS News put it, he has been banned because the city feels he has “no one to pray to.”
The issue of prayer at government meetings crops up continually and is often fraught with emotion.
In August, a North Carolina county commissioner stormed out of a meeting because a Muslim gave the invocation, saying, “I don’t believe we need to be bowing to the minorities.”
Discussion about prayer at City Council meetings also got heated in a small Arizona town of Coolidge last month, with officials defying their own city attorney to consider allowing only Christian prayer. They backed off the proposal, AZCentral reports.