Members of the city council of Waterloo, Iowa, listened respectfully as an atheist offered them guidance according to his sincerely held beliefs. Then they proceeded with business as usual.
It was a historic occasion for Justin Scott, a member of the Cedar Valley Atheists who made headlines earlier this year by confronting presidential candidates about their faith on the campaign trail. In February, Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart reinstated a policy of opening weekly council meetings with prayer. Though those messages have typically been religious in nature, the mayor invited Scott to deliver the city’s first-ever secular invocation.
“Let this chamber "deliberate with the understanding that not everyone in the room shares the same values, the same life experiences, or same religious beliefs,” said Scott. “These differences can help to enrich these governmental tasks, but only when they aren’t used to limit or censor free speech, denigrate or treat certain groups as second-class citizens, or promote religious belief over non-belief or one religious belief over all the others.”
When Scott finished his address to lawmakers, there was no fire or brimstone. Instead, the mayor simply proceeded with the Pledge of Allegiance. In fact, the lack of controversy surrounding Scott’s presentation could speak to the argument among many atheists who say they want to be included in these ceremonies for the purposes of unity, not to divide or denigrate religion.