For those atheists who live in Tampa, please be reminded that Rose Ferlita, who is running for Mayor, walked out of a Tampa City Council Meeting rather than listen to an atheist who had been invited to give the invocation.
See two news articles below:
By DUNCAN CRARY
Humanist Network News
First published Aug. 4, 2004
Remember all those religious folks who recently said atheists can just keep quiet during the "under God" part of the Pledge? At the time, HNN wondered what those religious people would do if the shoe were on the other foot � if they had to listen to, say, an invocation of atheism.
Now we know how the religious city council members of Tampa, Fla. will react. They'll up and walk out, but not before interrupting the invocation. Michael R. Harvey of Atheists of Florida is making national headlines for an invocation he was invited to lead before a meeting of the Common Council of Tampa on Thursday, July 29. Councilman John Dingfelder had invited Harvey to lead the invocation, which begins each meeting of the council and has been predominantly led by a member of the protestant clergy.
"In the city charter, it's called an invocation," Harvey told HNN of the ceremony which begins Tampa City Council meetings. "They don't want to call it a prayer. But most people consider it a prayer."
Three out of the six council members walked out rather than listen to an invocation from someone who does not believe in God. Before Harvey could even begin, Councilman Kevin White motioned to cancel the invocation or invite someone else to deliver it.
"White begins by trying to make a motion that it is inappropriate for an atheist to (give the invocation) because it is a hallowed motion for those with faith," Harvey said.
At that point, Harvey said, a debate ensued in which two council members defended Harvey's right to continue, three were staunchly opposed, and another claimed she would not cast a vote on the matter but said that she felt it was inappropriate for an atheist to give the invocation.
"Basically three council members walked off before I said anything," Harvey said.
According to the St. Petersburg Times, Council member Mary Lavarez said, "I just can't sit here and listen to someone that does not believe in a supreme being." She walked out of the room.
Harvey was eventually allowed to begin his speech. Two paragraphs into the invocation, down came the gavel with an order that he was out of line for attempting to make a political statement out of the invocation.
"This is not nearly as much of a political statement as what occurred before," Harvey said. "It's not only hypocrisy, it's bigotry. They denied my right based solely on my nonreligious affiliation."
Harvey completed the invocation, then walked out to meet the press. So far, he said, the responses he has received about the invocation are split evenly between those in favor of what he did and those who are opposed. But the Atheists of Florida has received one threatening phone message: "You need to be exterminated," the caller said.
Not all criticism of Harvey's invocation is coming from the religious right, however. This recent posting on a Internet Infidels thread is an example of some criticism from the freethought community: "Well, it kind of pisses me off that he did it like this. IMO he should simply have given a very eloquent and likeable invocation that no one could have objected to in order to take the higher ground. All he did was validate their concerns."
If nothing else, Harvey said, the situation rekindled some much needed debate and dialogue on the issue of church/state separation. "The controversy centered around two things: First, an invocation is a prayer and therefore atheist should not be able to give a prayer; second, that an atheist shouldn't be able to give a invocation at all. My position is this: they're missing the point."
Harvey said that no governing body in America, which is guided by a secular Constitution, should incorporate religious ceremonies into its daily operations. Is it more appropriate to begin a government meeting with a political statement or a religious statement? Harvey asks.
It is disturbing when religious leaders begin governmental meetings with prayers asking God to protect Americans from abortion or gay marriage, he added.
Harvey is not the first atheist to be invited to deliver an invocation before a city council. In 2003, Herb Silverman, president of the Secular Coalition for America, delivered an atheist's invocation before the city council members of Charleston, S.C. [Read more here.] Seven out of 12 council members walked out.
�The city council members in both cases exhibited rude behavior. What makes it more appalling is that both invocations contained non-controversial content,� said IHS Public Policy Director Tim Gordinier. �I think it�s wrong to have invocations before governmental functions in the first place. But if you�re going to have them then public officials need to treat everybody the same�and that includes atheists, too.�
--Duncan Crary is the communications director of the Institute for Humanist Studies
See how our readers voted on the Poll of the Week relating to this article. The question was: Should humanists seek to abolish all official invocations before government meetings?
In Tampa, three members walk out rather than listen. The mayor says the invocation should be reserved for believers in God.
By DAVID KARP
Published July 30, 2004
TAMPA - The City Council's opening invocation is usually a quiet moment of peace.
People from all faiths bow heads to hear pastors, rabbis and even poets offer some inspiration.
But Thursday, three council members walked out rather than hear an invocation from a man who doesn't believe in God.
Council members Kevin White, Mary Alvarez and Rose Ferlita left their seats rather than listen to Michael R. Harvey, a member of Atheists of Florida who had been invited by council member John Dingfelder to offer the invocation.
Even before Harvey began to speak, White was pushing to cancel the invocation. These are sacred moments that refer to a supreme being, White said, and this speaker is an atheist.
"We have never had people of an atheist group represent Americans," White said. "And I don't think it is appropriate in this setting."
White's motion to cancel the invocation failed 2-4, supported only by him and Alvarez. She called White "very brave" for making the effort.
"I just can't sit here and listen to someone that does not believe in a supreme being," she said.
Ferlita voted to allow the invocation go on, but also walked out. "I think this is sending us in the wrong direction," Ferlita said.
Mayor Pam Iorio, who did not attend the council meeting, said later that the invocation should be reserved for speakers who invoke God. She would not say whether she would have walked out.
"I certainly don't agree with having an atheist come for the invocation," she said. "I think the invocation is a time for the council to start their day with an expression of faith."
Dingfelder said his invitation to Harvey started with a neighborhood talk. He often saw Ed Golly, president of Atheists of Florida, in South Tampa. Golly needled him that the invocation violated the separation of church and state.
"I agree you should have equal time," Dingfelder told him. "I'll set it up."
Usually, clergy members deliver the invocation. But poets, civic leaders and ordinary citizens have been invited to speak, too. Some are nondenominational; others mix politics with prayer. Some invoke Jesus, others are more meditative.
Dingfelder, who attends a Jewish synagogue, has also invited Baptist and Methodist preachers, as well as a chaplain from MacDill Air Force Base.
"I was honestly hoping it would not be a big deal," he said. "Obviously, I am a little naive about that."
He blamed the atheist group for stirring up attention.
"I think they went out of their way to make it a media circus," he said.
Harvey, however, said he had been fielding reporters' questions for days, ever since news of the invitation broke earlier this month. On Thursday morning, Dingfelder introduced Harvey without mentioning his membership in Atheists of Florida.
Then, White stepped in. White said he had heard news reports that Harvey planned to make a political statement. Harvey should make his speech during the audience portion of the meeting, he said, when people have three minutes to address the council.
"What you are proposing is a form of censorship," Dingfelder said. And he said he was not told in advance what Harvey planned to say.
"City Hall belongs to everybody - everybody - regardless of what they believe in or what they don't believe in," Dingfelder said, his face getting flushed. "Because that is what our nation was built on. And that is what our soldiers overseas are fighting for."
With the debate over, council vice chairman Shawn Harrison invited Harvey to begin. Harrison warned him not to make a political statement.
Harvey thanked the council, then spoke about the separation of church and state.
Harrison banged the gavel.
"Sir, you are out of order," he said. "This is a political statement."
"I would say what occurred before was more of a political statement," Harvey said.
Harrison warned Harvey again.
The three council members still in the room lowered their heads.
Harvey continued: "So rather than clasping your hands, bowing your heads and closing your eyes, open your arms to that which truly makes us strong - our diversity."
Later that day, Harvey said he expected controversy, but not the hostility he faced.
"They did not want an atheist to share in that symbolic gesture to participate in government at that level," Harvey said. "I think it disturbed them. I think they did not know how to act."
Harvey said he was particularly disappointed that White, Alvarez and Ferlita walked out, calling their actions "a discriminatory gesture." White is black, and Alvarez and Ferlita are both Hispanic women.
"I think it is terribly ironic that the (wrong) message was sent by three members of a minority group to another minority," Harvey said. "Knowing how far minorities have come, you would think this would be fresh in their minds."
Later, White agreed that he was taking a stand. Listening to an atheist even one time could unleash a "snowball effect" on government. He compared it to having unprotected sex.
By the afternoon, Dingfelder was sounding somber. Asked if he regretted the invitation, he paused.
"I don't know," he said.
He paused again. "No, I don't think so."
His political career will probably be hurt, he said.
"All I can tell you is I did this because I honestly believed it was the right thing to do."
David Karp can be reached at 813 226-3376 or firstname.lastname@example.org
MICHAEL R. HARVEY'S SPEECH
This is the opening invocation delivered by Michael R. Harvey of Atheists of Florida at Thursday's meeting of the Tampa City Council:
An invocation is an appeal for guidance from a supernatural power, but it is not only that. It is also a call, a petition, to positive action on behalf of and for a diverse citizenry. On behalf of Atheists of Florida, I would like to express our gratitude in being invited to deliver today's invocation.
We are committed to the separation of state and church as defined by the United States Constitution. It is the core value of that remarkable and visionary document to protect the human-derived rights of all people in the continuous struggle for equal opportunities to pursue a safe and decent quality of life.
When an invocation takes on the form of public prayer, it is also a violation of the very principles upon which our country and Constitution were founded. Although we are dismayed that the practice of public prayer by governing bodies charged with representing all citizens still continues in violation of the Constitution, we also recognize that this practice has become deeply embedded in the national psyche.
Elected and appointed leaders who wish to seek the guidance of a deity can do so in private, as is their right. But not in the public arena where the establishment of religion is an assured end-result.
History - that ever-unfolding, ever-flowering story of human civilization - teaches us that the rights and accomplishments of humanity are the results of its past struggles, and that the road less traveled is many times the highest path to human progress. We therefore invoke this council and all of our leaders to be guided and inspired by the invaluable lessons of history, the honest insights of science, the guileless wisdom of logic, and the heart and soul of our shared humanity - compassion and tolerance.
So rather than clasping your hands, bowing your heads and closing your eyes, open your arms to that which truly makes us strong - our diversity. Raise your heads and open your eyes to recognize and fully understand the problems before you and know that ultimately, solutions to human problems can come only from human beings.
[Last modified July 29, 2004, 23:58:17]
Guess they'll ask for permission to burn Quarans during meetings next.
WASTE OF TIME TO MIX FAITH WITH FEDERAL.
do the math not the prayers no more time wasted; fair.