At Monday’s meeting, over 100 people showed up to voice their support for the prayer and the council members didn’t mind one bit:
One of the two dissenters who offered a public statement was Cole Bedford, a student at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology:
“This is not a challenge to anyone’s faith. It’s an appeal to your empathy” said Bedford, an atheist who grew up in Sturgis attending church. He added that in a predominantly Christian region, it’s important for a non-Christian to know they have an equal voice in government, a message that holding religious prayers does not send.
Of course, the council members didn’t understand why their Christian privilege would be a problem for anyone else:
“I don’t like being bullied. I don’t like my children being bullied,” council member Chad Lewis said. “I don’t think (praying) hurts anybody. I don’t see where it’s actually offending anybody.“
Council member Steven Laurenti passionately defended what he sees as a right to pray.
“What they really want, ladies and gentlemen, is conformity. They want us to conform to a way they would like to see us express religion,” Laurenti said. “That’s not freedom and that’s not the free exercise thereof.”
Actually, FFRF just wants the City Council to follow the law and not treat government functions as church services. That’s not bullying. That’s being a patriot.
But the speech of the night had to go to Council Member Bill Clayton, whose words to Bedford were arrogant, irrelevant, and unbelievably condescending:
“And [my friend, State Rep.] [Kopp] Pete, in his younger years, thought he was an atheist, and in his atheistic views set out to disprove the Bible using science. And the harder he tried to disprove the Bible using science, the more he found that the Bible proved science. I will say this: Christianity is not a religion. And I see laughter, but it’s okay. I was younger once, too, and as we grow older we’re exposed to things in this life. Wisdom, I always say, comes with gray hair and if you don’t have any gray hair, you’re too young to have wisdom.
“Now, Christianity is not a religion of exclusion. Anybody who’s been around any Bible preaching is familiar with John 3:16. “God gave his only beloved son that whosever shall believe in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” It is God’s will that nobody perish. Nobody is excluded. And all of us have heard: love the sinner, hate the sin.
“The Bible is replete with instructions. Our laws of our land come from the Bible. It’s frightening to think how lawless this land might be were we not to have guidance given in that book. I remember a discussion with my son who said I hate all these rules. And he had some terrible examples as a youngster of what was wrong with the rules. And I said, “Well, if there’s no rules, then that means I can choose to do whatever I please. How about if I don’t like driving in traffic, how about I just drive down the sidewalk?” And he said, “Dad that’s crazy, you can’t do that.” I said, “You said no rules.”
“You have to have the rules. And the rules, like it or not, come from that book we call the Bible. I agree that we need a plan and I look forward to giving our city attorney the time to put together that plan so we can move forward and continue in the vein we have been and continue the invocation. I thank all of you for being here tonight.”
Clayton, who has gray hair, is completely ignorant of who holds the wisdom in his exchange. He quotes the Bible as if it holds any weight in a government setting. He believes that, because Jews and Hindus and Muslims won’t go to hell if they accept Jesus, Christianity must be an inclusive religion (though I suspect he would have a problem if a Muslim councilman said “Islam is inclusive” since anyone can say there’s no God but Allah). He thinks our laws are based on the Bible and that, without the Bible, we’d be a nation without any rules at all.
Bedford had the right idea in urging the Council to get rid of their Christian prayers at meetings and the council would be wise to listen him before they get sued. But their pride is in the way and they refuse to listen to the one person who has some knowledge about what the Constitution does and does not allow.