A few minutes after Mario Avery was sworn in as mayor of Fairburn, Georgia, he made it clear that Christianity would be the dominant religion in the city. He asked the city council members — as well as viewers tuning in to the meeting over Zoom — to join him in an act of communion. Not a symbolic one, mind you. His included a wafer and wine.
This isn’t Avery’s first go as mayor of the city. He previously held the position for more than seven years before stepping aside in 2017. He beat his own successor last December to reclaim that seat, and took his oath of office on January 10.
Considering his campaign slogan this time around was “Let’s restore unity in our community,” you would think he’d opt for a more inclusive first order of business. Instead, he went straight for division. You can see it around the 31:10 mark in the video below.
There’s a lot of static in that video because Avery holds the microphone a little too close to his face but here’s a recap from the South Metro Neighbor:
Following a brief ceremony where Mayor Mario Avery and three councilmembers took their oaths of office, Avery led the crowd—and invited residents watching at home—in taking communion.
Noting that taking communion is typically a religious practice, Avery said “this is an act in my efforts to ask the city of Fairburn and its residents, its business owners and all affiliates and associates to come in agreement with what we have to do and what’s ahead of us.”
Nothing like picking the most divisive force in history — religion — and claiming his particular brand of it will unite everyone. Avery even acknowledged that this wasn’t merely symbolic when he said he did something like this back in 2009, “with 15 pastors,” and said he was asking for “spiritual guidance.”
Now the Freedom From Religion Foundation is calling on Avery to assure everyone he won’t use his position as mayor to promote Christianity.
… Turning a civil ceremony into a church service and suggesting that members of the audience, which certainly included non-Christians, participate in a sacred Christian ritual is divisive.
“This religious ritual during an official government meeting and event amounted to an endorsement of religion, specifically Christianity, in contravention of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits government sponsorship of religious messages,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to the mayor. “The Supreme Court has said time and again that the ‘First Amendment mandates government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.’”
If anyone thinks this is making a mountain out of a molehill, just consider what the reaction would’ve been if this ritual of “unity” involves any religion other than Christianity. Just because a religious ritual may be well-known doesn’t make it appropriate for a government meeting.
Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised by this. Avery is one of those guys who uses a Bible verse on his campaign’s Instagram page.
That’s not illegal, of course, but it suggests that electing him involves electing his faith too. It’s a kind of privilege that’s never afforded to non-Christian candidates.